Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: British woman released from jail in Iran for three-day family reunion

Charity worker granted furlough as lawyers prepare to push for extension

Jon Sharman,Bel Trew
Thursday 23 August 2018 15:49
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One Night of Freedom: comedy in solidarity with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been temporarily released from prison in Iran, her family has said.

The 39-year-old was released from jail in Tehran on a three-day furlough and pictures showed her hugging her daughter Gabriella, four. The family’s lawyers plan to push for an extension of the release period.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in 2016 for spying, which she denies.

Her British husband Richard Ratcliffe said his wife, a British-Iranian citizen, was with family in Damavand. He told The Independent: “We are pleasantly surprised and relieved. We had become quite jaded after so many promises in the past. We last heard serious talk of her release around Gabriella’s birthday on 11 June.”

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, said the charity worker’s release was “really good news” but that her imprisonment was a “gross injustice”.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Ratcliffe said: “[Nazanin] was just really happy, happier than I have ever heard her. We had had so much false hope. She had been really dark during the last couple of weeks, extremely down – her capacity to despair after everything is very strong.

“And even when she first heard about the furlough she didn’t believe them, and I didn’t believe them. One day she was finally woken up, told to pack her stuff, and ushered out the door. It was a complete surprise.

“We are not sure what to do next or what exactly this means. Her lawyer is going to go down on Saturday to try to extend the three days. Broadly, her family want to keep her for as long as possible.

“I’ve promised I will carry on campaigning. I had been chasing a visa to Iran so I can visit a couple of weeks back but so far no news on that, and in the meantime we are celebrating.

“We don’t know exactly what this all means – they haven’t fully explained to us how it will impact her case but it is a good sign.”

Describing the reunion with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family in Damavand, he added: “She looks well – she had complained about her shoulder a couple of weeks back but today she looks well and happy.

“Gabriella was so happy, and overwhelmed. She has been running around trying to show her mum things, she also prepared a little bunch of flowers and wanted to show her her dolls house.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in April 2016 as she prepared to return to London from a holiday with her daughter to visit relatives.

Last year Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, was embroiled in a diplomatic row and forced to apologise after incorrectly telling MPs she had been training journalists in the country.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, is facing a further hearing over an unspecified security charge which her family believes will include an accusation of spreading propaganda against the Iranian regime.

Following her temporary release Mr Ratclifffe also thanked Mr Hunt.

He said: “Our thanks to all those involved in making this possible in Tehran and London, and to the new foreign secretary for all his recent efforts and considerations.”

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: “We remain very concerned about all our dual nationals detained in Iran, and continue to make decisions in line with what we believe will produce the best outcomes in their cases.

“We do not think it is in the best interests of any of our dual national detainees to provide a running commentary on individual cases.”

Nonetheless, Mr Hunt tweeted on Thursday afternoon: “Really good news that Nazanin has been released on furlough, credit to tireless campaigning by husband Richard and her friends. But being in prison AT ALL is gross injustice and she must be PERMANENTLY released for which every effort will continue @FreeNazanin”.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella, after the charity worker was given temporary release from prison in Iran for three days

On Tuesday, Mr Hunt said he was considering whether to grant diplomatic protection as a means of freeing Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he had been reviewing the case in an “enormous amount of detail” and was considering a request by her husband to grant her diplomatic protection.

Mr Hunt said he had not “come to a final decision” on the issue and that there were “pros and cons”.

Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, welcomed her constituent’s release.

She said: “This is a an incredible moment. Huge relief for my constituent. After two and a half years imprisonment, I can’t begin to imagine how precious these three days with Gabriella will be for Nazanin.

“Until Nazanin returns to her life in West Hampstead the campaign goes on. As their MP, I will continue to support Richard and the family for as long as Nazanin remains imprisoned.”

Additional reporting by PA

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