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Detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has left Iran after nearly six years in detention and is returning to Britain today, after UK officials settled a long-standing £400million debt to Tehran. 

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is flying to Muscat in Oman and will then travel on to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on a Titan Airways Boeing jet chartered privately by the UK Government – arriving at 10.30pm, reported The Times. The plane has been waiting in Oman since Monday after flying out as hopes built of a deal, according to LBC radio.

The 44-year-old charity worker travelled to an airport in Tehran today to come home to her family in North West London along with another detained British-Iranian, Anousheh Ashouri, according to their lawyer Hojjat Kermani. 

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashouri were then handed over to a British team at Tehran’s International Imam Khomeini Airport. A source close to their families later told the Reuters news agency that both had left Iran.

There had been much nervousness in Whitehall about the situation regarding Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe today despite her being freed, with sources stressing that she would not be considered free until she was actually on a plane.   

Her family’s Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who has long campaigned for her release, tweeted a picture of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on a plane today and said: ‘It’s been six long years – and I can’t believe I can finally share this photo. 

‘Nazanin is now in the air flying away from six years of hell in Iran. My heart goes out to Gabriella [her daughter] and Richard [her husband], as her long journey back home to them gets closer by the minute. #NazaninIsFree.’

The Tasnim news agency posted a video online of a woman it said was Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe getting onto a plane. 

A third dual national, Morad Tahbaz, was released from jail on furlough. The UK agreed to pay £393.8million owed to Iran after it cancelled an order of Chieftain tanks following the overthrow of the Shah in the 1979 revolution.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted today: ‘I can confirm Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will return to the UK today, and Morad Tahbaz has been released from prison on furlough. They will be reunited with their families later today. We will continue to work to secure Morad’s departure from Iran.’

Ms Truss insisted that the UK settled the outstanding debt with Iran in a way which complies with UK and international sanctions, with the funds that have been released being restricted to humanitarian purposes only.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter today: ‘I am very pleased to confirm that the unfair detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashoori in Iran has ended today, and they will now return to the UK.’ 

Mother-of-one Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had her British passport returned over the weekend, and Mr Kermani said she and Mr Ashoori were both taken to Tehran Airport today. The Iranian judiciary confirmed both had been released. 

On Mr Ashoori, a retired engineer from South East London who had been sentenced to ten years in jail in Iran on charges of spying for Israel, judiciary spokesman Zabihollah Khodayian said: ‘Due to his age and physical condition, the court agreed to his conditional release and he was… freed.’ 

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at Tehran Airport in April 2016 and later convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment. 

Her family – including husband Richard, who has led a campaign to free her for years – and the foundation deny the charge. She had been held under house arrest and unable to leave the country after her release from prison. 

MP Tulip Siddiq has tweeted this picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on a plane out of Tehran Airport in Iran this afternoon

MP Tulip Siddiq has tweeted this picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on a plane out of Tehran Airport in Iran this afternoon

MP Tulip Siddiq has tweeted this picture of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on a plane out of Tehran Airport in Iran this afternoon

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella. Her ordeal began in 2016 when she was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran where she showed Gabriella to her parents

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella. Her ordeal began in 2016 when she was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran where she showed Gabriella to her parents

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella. Her ordeal began in 2016 when she was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran where she showed Gabriella to her parents

British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella

British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella

British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with their daughter Gabriella, as he ended a hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London after almost three weeks on November 13 last year

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with their daughter Gabriella, as he ended a hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London after almost three weeks on November 13 last year

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with their daughter Gabriella, as he ended a hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London after almost three weeks on November 13 last year

Detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured in March 2020) has been freed after nearly six years

Detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured in March 2020) has been freed after nearly six years

Detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured in March 2020) has been freed after nearly six years

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella, with whom she will be reunited

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella, with whom she will be reunited

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella, with whom she will be reunited

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who served most of her first sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison, was released from jail in March 2020 during the pandemic and then kept under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran. 

In March 2021, she was released from house arrest but she was summoned to court again on a new charge. 

Who are the three Britons released in Iran today? 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual national who was detained in Iran for nearly six years, serving five years in prison.

The mother-of-one was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport in April 2016 after a holiday visit to Iran where she showed her daughter Gabriella to her parents.

She was later convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny. Aid worker Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been held under house arrest and unable to leave the country since her release from prison in March 2020.

Anoosheh Ashoori

Another British-Iranian dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori, was detained in Tehran in August 2017.

The retired engineer from South East London had been sentenced to ten years in prison for alleged ties to the Israeli Mossad intelligence agency, something long denied by his supporters and family. 

In January, he began a hunger strike at Tehran’s Evin prison.

Morad Tahbaz

Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American who also holds British nationality, was arrested alongside other environmentalists in January 2018.

He was sentenced to 10 years in jail for ‘conspiring with America’.

The UK Government confirmed today that Mr Tahbaz had been release from prison on furlough.

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In April 2021, she was then sentenced to a new term in jail on charges of propaganda against Iran’s ruling system, charges she denies. But that sentence has not yet started and she was technically banned from leaving Iran. 

Today, Richard Ratcliffe’s sister said it felt like they were on the ‘home run’ following the news that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been taken to the airport. 

Rebecca Ratcliffe told BBC News this morning: ‘It is quite emotional day today. It feels like we are on the home run now but until she leaves that airport we can’t quite believe it.

‘We found out about an hour ago that Nazanin had been picked up and taken to the airport with her parents. She is still actually under Iranian control in the airport. She is still not free but it definitely feels she is about to be.’

Ms Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains ‘under the authority of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’ but her family can ‘smell freedom’. 

She told Sky News today: ‘I’ve spoken to Richard Ratcliffe who said that Nazanin is now at the airport in Tehran, but made the point that she is very much still under the authority of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and that there has been no information about a deal.

‘However, Richard is taking heart from the fact that his wife is at the airport in Iran, she does have her British passport back. 

‘And the way he described it to me is that he feels that they can smell freedom, they just haven’t grasped it yet. 

‘As you can imagine, Richard is very emotional, patiently waiting as he has been for six years, but doesn’t have confirmation that his wife is on the flight yet.’

Dominic Raab has said he ‘cannot yet confirm the reports we have seen in the media’ about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being on her way home but it ‘feels like positive signs’.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, the Deputy Prime Minister said: ‘Can I first of all say that I cannot yet confirm the reports we have seen in the media but of course it feels like positive signs and of course, no one wants more than me – but I am sure all members of the House – to see Nazanin but also all of the arbitrarily detained nationals reunited with their loved ones.

‘I can tell the honourable lady (Angela Rayner), having worked for two years with the concerted diplomatic effort led by the Prime Minister that we have done absolutely everything we can. 

‘She shouldn’t give succour to the despotic regime that detained our nationals in Iran or around the world by suggesting it is anyone else’s responsibility other than theirs.’ 

Mr Raab’s comments came as Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner asked: ‘I’m sure members across the House want to show their support for their families and them. 

‘I know the minister would agree that this devastating situation must never be repeated, and other British nationals still trapped in Iran need to be brought home. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for a media interview at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi in the UAE today

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for a media interview at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi in the UAE today

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives for a media interview at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi in the UAE today

Richard Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2019 where he was on hunger strike in solidarity with his wife

Richard Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2019 where he was on hunger strike in solidarity with his wife

Richard Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2019 where he was on hunger strike in solidarity with his wife

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, ties ribbons and messages of support to a tree at Fortune Green in West Hampstead, North West London, in April 2017 to mark 365 days since she was imprisoned in Tehran

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, ties ribbons and messages of support to a tree at Fortune Green in West Hampstead, North West London, in April 2017 to mark 365 days since she was imprisoned in Tehran

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, ties ribbons and messages of support to a tree at Fortune Green in West Hampstead, North West London, in April 2017 to mark 365 days since she was imprisoned in Tehran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella pose for a photo in London in February 2016

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella pose for a photo in London in February 2016

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella pose for a photo in London in February 2016

Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella holding signs at Parliament Square in London in September 2021

Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella holding signs at Parliament Square in London in September 2021

Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella holding signs at Parliament Square in London in September 2021

Prime Minister Boris Johnson inspects the Guard of Honour as he arrives at Abu Dhabi airport for his visit to the UAE today

Prime Minister Boris Johnson inspects the Guard of Honour as he arrives at Abu Dhabi airport for his visit to the UAE today

Prime Minister Boris Johnson inspects the Guard of Honour as he arrives at Abu Dhabi airport for his visit to the UAE today

‘So will the minister commit to a review of these cases to understand what more could have been done by the British Government to secure releases, and whether the lazy comments of the Prime Minister worsened the situation?’

What is the timeline of events in the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case? 

Here is a timeline of the key events since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in Iran.

– April 3 2016: The mother-of-one is detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran where she showed her daughter Gabriella to her parents.

– July 12 2016: Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, delivers letters to Downing Street for outgoing prime minister David Cameron and his replacement Theresa May on his wife’s 100th day in custody. He says it is ‘astonishing’ no British minister has publicly criticised Tehran for arresting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

– August 9 2016: New prime minister Mrs May ‘raised concerns’ about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe during a phone call with president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani.

– September 9 2016: Mr Ratcliffe says his wife has been jailed for five years following a conviction on unspecified ‘national security-related’ offences – a sentence he describes as ‘a punishment without a crime’.

– November 13 2016: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe begins a hunger strike, which she ends after five days amid her family’s fears for her health.

– January 2 2017: Mr Ratcliffe says Mrs May and her ministers could have ‘publicly stood up for Nazanin more’ and should have called for her release. Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘She raised those concerns in September. What happened after September? Nothing much, really.’

– April 24 2017: The family of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe say she has lost the final stage of her appeal against the sentence.

– November 6 2017: It is feared Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe may face a further period of imprisonment because of remarks made by then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson. Mr Johnson told a parliamentary committee the previous week that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was working in Tehran training journalists at the time of her arrest in 2016. Four days later, she was summoned before an unscheduled court hearing, where the foreign secretary’s comments were cited as proof that she was engaged in ‘propaganda against the regime’.

– November 7 2017: It is announced that Mr Johnson told his Iranian counterpart in a phone call that his comments to a Commons committee provide ‘no justifiable basis’ for further legal action against Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. A Foreign Office spokesman says Mr Johnson accepted he ‘could have been clearer’.

– November 12 2017: Mr Ratcliffe says his wife has seen a medical specialist after finding lumps on her breasts and is ‘on the verge of a nervous breakdown’.

– November 15 2017: Mr Ratcliffe describes an hour-long meeting with Mr Johnson as ‘positive and constructive’.

– December 12 2017: Mr Johnson said he and his Iranian counterpart spoke ‘frankly’ regarding the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, during talks in Tehran.

– Later in December 2017: Mr Ratcliffe said he believes there is ‘still a chance’ his wife may be released in time for a dream Christmas together.

– December 28 2017: Mr Ratcliffe says he is in limbo waiting for news of his wife’s release but has not given up hope, and describes the situation as ‘a lot more positive’ than last year.

– April 14 2018: Iranian ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, says the Iranian government is doing its best to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, saying the judicial process was ‘complicated’ but insisted ‘we are trying our best’.

– May 21 2018: Mr Ratcliffe says his wife has been told to expect another conviction after appearing in court over a new ‘invented’ charge.

– August 3 2018: New foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt pledges to do everything possible to secure Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, after talks with Mr Ratcliffe.

– August 21 2018: Mr Hunt says he is considering a request by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband to grant her diplomatic protection.

– August 23 2018: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is given temporary release from prison for three days and her husband says it feels like ‘home is one step closer’. She returns to prison three days later.

– September 26 2018: Mrs May and Mr Hunt ramp up pressure on Iran to release the charity worker during talks in New York. The PM tells Iranian president Hassan Rouhani she has ‘serious concerns’ about the jailing of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

– December 26, 2018: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe turns 40 in jail. Three days later, she marks her 1,000th day of incarceration.

– January 14 2019: She begins a hunger strike in protest over her treatment in jail. The action ends after three days.

– January 24 2019: Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif raises hope of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s return to the UK by suggesting she could be freed in exchange for an Iranian woman held in Australia on a US extradition request. The minister subsequently backs away from his comments.

– June 15 2019: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe begins another hunger strike, this time lasting 15 days. She is joined, in a show of solidarity, by her husband, who strikes outside the Iranian Embassy in London.

– June 24 2019: Mr Johnson, who came under fire as foreign secretary for his comments about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case in 2017, becomes Prime Minister. Dominic Raab replaces Mr Hunt as Foreign Secretary.

– September 23 2019: Mr Ratcliffe says Mr Johnson can make amends for his failings in his incarcerated wife’s case by telling Iran’s president ‘enough is enough’ and securing her release.

– October 10 2019: The couple’s daughter, Gabriella, returns to the UK after more than three years living in the Middle East. The child, who is now seven years old, had been living with her grandparents in Tehran since her mother was arrested. Her father says: ‘It has been a long journey to have her home, with bumps right until the end.’

– December 18 2019: Mr Ratcliffe is joined by Gabriella singing Christmas carols outside Downing Street, and he called on the Prime Minister to ‘please take responsibility for Nazanin’s case and do what you can to get her and others home’.

– January 3 2020: A US air strike kills Iran’s top military chief, General Quassem Soleimani. Mr Ratcliffe says he is worried about his wife, and tells ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘I sit here partly worried for what that means for Nazanin, partly worried what that means for my in-laws, sat in their ordinary living room in Tehran where they’re all really worried.’

– January 10 2020: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe spends one night in a clinic after suffering ‘palpitations and panic attacks’ due to the tensions in Tehran, sparked by the death of Gen Soleimani, Mr Ratcliffe says.

– January 23 2020: Richard Ratcliffe and their then five-year-old daughter Gabriella meet the Prime Minister in Downing Street, but Mr Ratcliffe says there was ‘no breakthrough’.

– February 29 2020: Mr Ratcliffe says he believes his wife has contracted coronavirus in prison as he expresses concern at the jail’s ‘refusal to test her’.

– March 3 2020: The couple’s Labour MP, Tulip Siddiq, says she believes Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be temporarily released from jail due to the Covid-19 outbreak in Iran.

March 17 2020: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is temporarily freed from jail. She says she is ‘happy to be out, even with the ankle tag’ and can only go within 300 metres of her parents’ home.

– March 28 2020: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s temporary prison release is extended to April 18 and Mr Ratcliffe says his wife’s file has been put forward to the Iranian prosecutor general to be considered for clemency.

– April 21 2020: After a delay, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prison release is extended again for around one month. Mr Ratcliffe reveals that the family are able to talk via video calls for about four to five hours a day.

– May 20 2020: Mr Ratcliffe says his wife’s release has been extended indefinitely until there is a decision on her clemency. He describes the news as ‘a real step forwards… I don’t think it’s guaranteed one way and I don’t think she thinks it’s guaranteed one way, but let’s enjoy the moment’.

– May 26 2020: Mr Ratcliffe says the family are on the ‘cusp of potentially good news’ and thinks the family could find out about a decision on her clemency the following day.

– August 24 2020: Lawyers for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe ask Defence Secretary Ben Wallace for a meeting and call on the British Government to stand up to Iran over its ‘abusive treatment’.

– September 8 2020: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe appears before a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Court in Tehran, where she faces a new charge.

– March 7 2021: On the day Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence is due to come to an end, her constituency MP Tulip Siddiq reveals she has had her electronic tag removed but faces a new court date. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says her treatment is ‘intolerable’ and calls on Iran to allow her to return to the UK.

– April 26 2021: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is given an additional one-year jail term and is also banned from leaving Iran for a year. Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani says she received the second jail sentence on a charge of spreading ‘propaganda against the system’ for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009. Mr Johnson says the decision to sentence Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to another year in prison is ‘cruel, inhumane and wholly unjustified’.

– May 2 2021: Iranian state TV claims Britain will pay the £400 million debt relating to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s, paving the way for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. But this is denied by UK officials and Mr Ratcliffe says he has ‘heard nothing’.

– September 23 2021: Mr Ratcliffe marks 2,000 days since his wife was detained, the day after newly-appointed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss uses a meeting with her Iranian counterpart to raise the case.

– October 16 2021: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe loses her latest appeal in Iran, with her sentence of one year plus a one-year travel ban ‘upheld with no court hearing’, her MP Tulip Siddiq says.

– November 13 2021: Mr Ratcliffe ends a 21-day hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in central London, having been visited by supporters including Strictly Come Dancing co-host Claudia Winkleman, writer and presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

– November 17 2021: Mr Johnson tells the Commons Liaison Committee it is ‘worth considering’ sending a plane with a ‘crate of cash’ to Iran to settle the £400 million debt.

– February 9 2022: Ms Siddiq asks Mr Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions to intervene after she learns a deal agreed with the Iranian authorities in the summer of 2021 fell through. Mr Johnson responds that the ‘debt is difficult to settle’ but ministers are working on it.

March 15 2022: Ms Siddiq says her constituent has had her British passport returned and a team of officials are in Tehran to negotiate.

– March 16 2022: Mr Johnson says talks on a deal are ‘going right up to the wire’ before hours later Ms Siddiq announces that her constituent is at the airport in Tehran and on her way home. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss later confirms Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow dual-national detainee Anoosheh Ashoori have been released and will be reunited with their families later. Mr Johnson says he is ‘very pleased’ the pair’s ‘unfair detention’ has ended. Ms Siddiq tweets an apparent selfie by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who she says is ‘now in the air flying away from 6 years of hell in Iran’.  

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Mr Ashouri was sentenced to ten years in jail in 2019 for spying for Israel’s Mossad and two years for ‘acquiring illegitimate wealth’, according to Iran’s judiciary.

Iranian state television in an on-air scrolling text announced Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been ‘handed over to the British government,’ without elaborating. 

Iran’s English-language broadcaster Press TV later described Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe as ‘leaving Tehran after serving jail term.’

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release comes after the semi-official Fars news agency suggested she would be released as the British government had paid Iran about £400million. 

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi paid the sum for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. 

The Foreign Office has not commented on the reports of her release, and Boris Johnson had said negotiations about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe were ‘moving forward’ but ‘going right up to the wire’. 

The Prime Minister had confirmed earlier during a visit to the Middle East that a negotiating team has been at work in Tehran to free Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who holds dual UK-Iranian citizenship. 

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 as she prepared to fly back to the UK, having taken her daughter Gabriella – then not even two years old – to see relatives.

She was accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Tehran’s Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

Both the British Government and Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe have always denied the allegations.

While details of the negotiations remain unclear, it is possible they are linked to a £400million debt dating back to the 1970s owned to Iran by the UK.

The Government accepts it should pay the ‘legitimate debt’ for an order of 1,500 Chieftain tanks that was not fulfilled after the shah was deposed and replace by a revolutionary regime.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Sky News today that it is a ‘priority to pay the debt that we owe to Iran’. Tehran remains under strict sanctions, however, which have been linked to the failure to clear the debt. 

While the British and Iranian governments have said there is no connection between the debt and the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Iranian state media last year reported unidentified Iranian officials saying she would be freed once the debt was paid.

Iranian officials did not comment when asked whether the amount has been paid by Britain as reported by some Iranian outlets. 

Ms Truss said: ‘I’m delighted that Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad have all been released by the Iranians, and that Nazanin and Anoosheh will return back home to the UK.’

Speaking at the Foreign Office, she told reporters: ‘We have been working hard over the last six months to ensure that we were able to secure the release of these detainees – Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad – and make sure that they are able to – this is happening for Nazanin and Anoosheh – make sure they’re able to return back to the UK.

‘I just want to say my sympathies are with the families for what they’ve suffered over this appalling time and I’m delighted to be welcoming them back to the UK later today.’

She also said that said the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori, along with environmental activist Mr Tahbaz on furlough, was the result of ‘creative British diplomacy’.

In a statement, she said: ‘After years of detention by the Government of Iran, British nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will return from Iran today. Morad Tahbaz has also been released from prison on furlough. It is the result of tenacious and creative British diplomacy.

‘Nazanin has been held in Iran for almost six years, and Anoosheh almost five. Morad has been in prison for four. They will be reunited with their families and loved ones.

‘Their release is the result of years of hard work and dedication by our brilliant diplomats, and intensive efforts over the past six months. I pay tribute to my predecessors and the Prime Minister, who have all worked hard to resolve this issue.

‘We have the deepest admiration for the resolve, courage and determination Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad, and their families, have shown. They have faced hardship that no family should ever experience and this is a moment of great relief.’

Ms Truss confirmed the UK has settled the £400 million debt relating to an order of Chieftain tanks cancelled following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in the revolution of 1979.

‘In parallel, we have also settled the IMS debt, as we said we would.

‘I made resolving the continued detention of British nationals and the IMS debt payment my top priorities when I entered office in September 2021. In my first week, I spoke to the families of all the detainees and met my Iranian counterpart in New York.

‘Last October and November I dispatched a team of Foreign Office negotiators to Tehran to secure the release of the detainees.

‘Last December I met Omani foreign minister Badr to secure Oman’s diplomatic assistance. We are grateful to our friends in Oman for their support in securing the return of our nationals.

‘Last month I spoke twice to Iranian foreign minister Amir-Abdollahian in a final push to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion. Our officials then held a last round of negotiations to sign off an agreement allowing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori to return to the UK, and Morad Tahbaz to be released on furlough to his house in Tehran.

‘The IMS debt has been settled in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations. These funds will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods.’

Monique Villa, the former chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was previously an employee, said friends and family had been reluctant to confirm she was on the verge of release in case there was a last-minute ‘trick’.

Ms Villa, who said she speaks often virtually with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard, told the PA news agency: ‘Until the last moment, you never know.

‘It has happened a few times that we really thought she would be back home, and then it never happened, so you become very cautious.

‘The fact that she got the passport yesterday was absolutely crucial.

‘And the chief negotiator of the Foreign Office was in Tehran negotiating, so we knew it was probably close – but you never know, because there can always be a trick or something.’

Antonio Zappulla, chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was previously employed, said staff were ‘overjoyed’ at news of her release.

In a statement, he said: ‘On behalf of all at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, we are overjoyed that our much missed colleague and friend Nazanin has finally been freed.

‘No one can begin to imagine what Nazanin has endured throughout the past tortuous six years; denied her freedoms, separated from her husband and young child, battling significant illness, thrown in solitary confinement.

‘An innocent victim of an international dispute, Nazanin has been one of many used as political pawns. Her treatment has been utterly inhumane.

‘Throughout this extremely dark period, we have supported the Free Nazanin campaign every single step of the way, whilst remaining in close contact with Richard, and of course, with Nazanin herself.’

Mr Zappulla added: ‘On a personal level, I have nothing but admiration for Nazanin’s courage, resilience and fortitude, despite her prolonged and painful suffering.

‘I have been thankful that we have been able to remain in close contact. She is a truly remarkable woman, with a truly remarkable family.

‘In a time when the world is in turmoil and the news has been consistently bleak, Nazanin’s freedom is a ray of light and hope. Her reunion with her family cannot come soon enough, and we cannot wait to have her back with us at the Thomson Reuters Foundation whenever she is ready.

‘Our thoughts are with all those who remain unfairly incarcerated in Tehran, and with their families who continue to so desperately hope for clemency.’

Also today, a lawyer who has worked with the family of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she will not ‘be certain’ until the plane carrying the mother takes off.

Penny Madden QC told the PA news agency: ‘Well I think we all feel just enormous relief.

‘We now know that she is on her way home, she’s on the plane. We haven’t had confirmation that the plane has actually taken off, but it certainly won’t be long.

‘So enormous relief, it’s been an absolute roller-coaster for the family over the last few days, huge excitement, huge optimism tempered with real anxiety that it felt so close, but one could never be certain until actually that plane takes off.

‘The family felt just huge excitement and and enormous relief, it’s been six very, very long years.

‘I think that’s probably case closed in terms of, not only is Nazanin coming home, but we understand that Anoosheh Ashoori is also coming home and that’s also fantastic news.’ 

Following the news that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way home to the UK from Iran, Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘For Nazanin, for Richard, and their daughter, this is an incredible moment after so much anguish.’ 

Speaking to reporters in Huddersfield, the Labour leader said: ‘The courage that they have shown over so many years, I’ve met Richard many times – I know, I can feel what this will mean for him, for Nazanin, for their daughter and their family.

‘My emotion, I think, will be the emotion of families across the whole of the country which is just so pleased for them.

‘There will be questions of course, for other people to answer, but at the moment but at the moment, I’m so pleased for them as a family that this incredible moment appears to have come about and I think the British public – all of us – will just be wishing them all the very best after the unimaginable ordeal that they’ve been through.’

Sir Keir added: ‘Complex, difficult negotiations, lots of questions to be answered about what happened along the way, but at this moment, all of my thoughts are with the family in this emotional reuniting after so many long, unimaginable what they’ve been through. 

‘I’m just imagining how they’ll be feeling, being able to reunite as a family and I’m so delighted for them.’

BBC News presenter is overwhelmed with emotion during Zaghari-Ratcliffe announcement 

BBC News presenter Joanna Gosling apologised on-air after becoming overwhelmed with emotion while announcing the ‘moving’ news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is ‘heading to Tehran airport and on her way home’. 

BBC presenter Joanna Gosling becomes emotional on air today

BBC presenter Joanna Gosling becomes emotional on air today

BBC presenter Joanna Gosling becomes emotional on air today

While announcing the breaking story on BBC News, presenter Gosling was visibly overcome with emotion.

The broadcast journalist, 51, said: ‘Sorry, this is a moving moment because these are people who have been detained for some time. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held for nearly six years in Iran and her husband has worked tirelessly to secure her release.’

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Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, tweeted: ‘I’m delighted to hear that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way home to be reunited with her family. 

‘Nazanin and her loved ones have shown great courage, strength and steadfastness through this unimaginably difficult time. London looks forward to welcoming her home.’

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been supported by celebrities including TV presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, who has been a vocal advocate for her release.

In a statement on Twitter, the writer, 49, said: ‘All I want to say is that this is an inspirational family: the heroic Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin and Gabriella, and their wider family in England, Wales and Iran, have a strength and bravery that is beyond words. 

‘They are showing the world the power of hope, faith and effort. Also Tulip Siddiq has been a phenomenal constituency MP. God bless all of them.’

Coren Mitchell and Claudia Winkleman visited the husband of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on day nine of hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in London which he started after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran.

Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies. 

Iran does not recognise dual nationalities, so detainees like Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance.

A United Nations panel has criticised what it describes as ‘an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals’ in Iran.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: ‘This is fantastic news, but it hasn’t come a moment too soon. 

The Shah of Iran paid Britain £650million for 1,750 Chieftain tanks (file photo above) in the 1970s but only 185 had been delivered when he was toppled in 1979 and the new government cancelled the order

The Shah of Iran paid Britain £650million for 1,750 Chieftain tanks (file photo above) in the 1970s but only 185 had been delivered when he was toppled in 1979 and the new government cancelled the order

The Shah of Iran paid Britain £650million for 1,750 Chieftain tanks (file photo above) in the 1970s but only 185 had been delivered when he was toppled in 1979 and the new government cancelled the order

Fellow British-Iranian prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori (pictured with his wife Sherry Izadi) has also now been released

Fellow British-Iranian prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori (pictured with his wife Sherry Izadi) has also now been released

Fellow British-Iranian prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori (pictured with his wife Sherry Izadi) has also now been released

Following the news that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way home to the UK, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters in Huddersfield today: 'For Nazanin, for Richard, and their daughter, this is an incredible moment after so much anguish.

Following the news that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way home to the UK, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters in Huddersfield today: 'For Nazanin, for Richard, and their daughter, this is an incredible moment after so much anguish.

Following the news that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way home to the UK, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told reporters in Huddersfield today: ‘For Nazanin, for Richard, and their daughter, this is an incredible moment after so much anguish.

‘Nazanin and Anoosheh should never have been detained in the first place – they were both jailed on trumped-up national security charges, a familiar tactic in Iran. 

Victoria Coren Mitchell’s support for Nazanin

British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been supported by celebrities including TV presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, who has been a vocal advocate for her release.

Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell as they meet and talk to Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign Office in London during his hunger strike on November 8, 2021

Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell as they meet and talk to Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign Office in London during his hunger strike on November 8, 2021

Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell as they meet and talk to Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign Office in London during his hunger strike on November 8, 2021

In a statement on Twitter, the writer, 49, said: ‘All I want to say is that this is an inspirational family: the heroic Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin and Gabriella, and their wider family in England, Wales and Iran, have a strength and bravery that is beyond words. 

‘They are showing the world the power of hope, faith and effort. Also Tulip Siddiq has been a phenomenal constituency MP. God bless all of them.’

Coren Mitchell and Claudia Winkleman visited the husband of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on day nine of hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in London which he started after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran.

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‘Nazanin and Anoosheh have unquestionably been used as political pawns by the Iranian authorities – and the Iranian authorities have acted with calculated cruelty, seeking to wring the maximum diplomatic value out of their captivity.

‘The Government needs to follow up on Nazanin and Anoosheh’s release by immediately renewing its calls for the release of the UK nationals Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz, both of whom are still going through an ordeal all too similar to Nazanin and Anoosheh’s. 

‘It’s been clear for years that the Iranian authorities are targeting foreign nationals with spurious national security-related charges to exert diplomatic pressure, and it’s more important than ever that Britain works multilaterally to combat this insidious practice.’

Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American who also holds British nationality, was arrested alongside other environmentalists in January 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in jail for ‘conspiring with America’.

Dual nationals from Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and the United States have also been arrested in similar circumstances.

Redress, an anti-torture group which has campaigned for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be freed, said it congratulated the UK Government on ‘finally negotiating her release’.

Director Rupert Skilbeck said: ‘We are incredibly relieved that Nazanin will finally be reunited with her family in the UK after a horrific six-year ordeal. Nazanin has endured unimaginable suffering.

‘Richard (Ratcliffe) fought day and night for his wife to be allowed to return to the UK and Redress is honoured to have supported them in securing Nazanin’s freedom. Nazanin’s detention in Iran was always illegal and her treatment by Iran amounted to torture.

‘In celebrating her release, we must not forget the deep and continuing injustice perpetrated by Iran. Iran’s systematic practice of holding foreign nationals hostage for diplomatic leverage cannot be allowed to continue.’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Charity worker with ‘pretty keen sense of justice’ held on spurious charges by Iran

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2020 after being released from jail

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2020 after being released from jail

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in 2020 after being released from jail

After six years Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is finally returning home to her husband and child.

The charity worker, of Hampstead, north-west London, had been detained in Iran since her arrest in 2016 on charges, which she denies, of plotting to overthrow the Tehran government, having been arrested during a holiday visit to show her baby daughter Gabriella to her parents.

The dual national has always insisted she was not working for Thomson Reuters Foundation in Iran at the time of her arrest, but was visiting the country so Gabriella could meet her grandparents.

According to her family, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.

During her detention, family and friends in the UK have long fought for her freedom.

In March 2020, she was freed from jail due to the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest.

Hopes of her being granted clemency were later dashed and in April last year she was given an additional one-year jail term and banned from leaving Iran for a year.

Her lawyer Hojjat Kermani said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe received the second jail sentence on a charge of spreading ‘propaganda against the system’ for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian embassy in London in 2009.

She lost an appeal against that sentence in October.

The mother of one has scarcely seen her daughter throughout her ordeal.

After three years with her grandparents, Gabriella, then aged five, was allowed to return to her father in the UK in October 2019, however, during Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s furlough from prison, the family would speak on video chat for four or five hours a day.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe previously told the PA news agency that before his wife’s detention, she was ‘really, really proud’ of Iran.

‘The Iran she knew and she loved is not the Iran that has treated her this way. That is one of the hardest things,’ he said.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born and raised in Tehran and studied English literature at the capital’s university, before becoming an English teacher.

Following a devastating earthquake in Iran in 2003, she went to work as a translator in the relief effort for the Japanese International Co-operation Agency.

She then went on to work for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, before moving to the World Health Organisation as a communications officer.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe came to the UK in 2007 after securing a scholarship at London Metropolitan University to study for a masters in communication management.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe

It was a month after her arrival in the UK that she met her future husband through mutual friends.

Describing their first date, Mr Ratcliffe said they ‘clicked’ and he felt like he had ‘come home’.

The couple got married in August 2009 in Winchester and their daughter Gabriella was born in June 2014, something Mr Ratcliffe said changed both their outlooks on life.

‘It was very important for Nazanin to keep going back to Iran to show her daughter to her parents… before she would always go once a year, but she tried to go twice after,’ he said.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe began working at Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2011 as a project co-ordinator before taking on the role of a project manager.

Mr Ratcliffe described his wife as very house-proud, meticulous and tidy, and said she has a ‘pretty keen sense of justice’, and is ‘outraged’ by what has happened to her and her daughter. 

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Source: DailyMail

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