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Detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been freed after nearly six years and is returning to Britain, it was confirmed today as Tehran and London continued talks about a long-standing £400million debt.

The 44-year-old charity worker travelled to Tehran Airport 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 was handed over to a British team at Tehran’s International Imam Khomeini Airport and she will be leaving the country today, Iranian state media reported. 

But there is still nervousness in Whitehall about the situation, with sources stressing she will not be free until she is actually on a plane out of Iran. Iran’s Press TV later described her as ‘leaving Tehran after serving jail term.’ 

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family’s local Labour MP Tulip Siddiq said: ‘Nazanin is at the airport in Tehran and on her way home. I came into politics to make a difference, and right now I’m feeling like I have. More details to follow.’ 

The mother-of-one had her British passport returned over the weekend, and Mr Kermani said: ‘Both of them are on their way to the airport in Tehran to leave Iran.’ Iran’s judiciary officials were not available to comment.  

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. 

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

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

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.

Richard Ratcliffe’s sister has said it felt like they were on the ‘home run’ following the news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been taken to the airport. Rebecca Ratcliffe told the BBC: ‘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.’

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

April 2016: Arrested by the Revolutionary Guard in Tehran Airport after visiting her parents in Iran with her young daughter Gabriella. She was taken to prison and held in solitary confinement for 45 days before being moved to a women’s wing. The mother-of-one was not given access to legal counsel or medical treatment, and the lights in her cell remained permanently switched on. As a result, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe experienced problems walking, weight loss, and hair loss.

September 2016: She was sentenced to five years in prison for spying following a trial campaigners have branded ‘secret and unfair’.

April 2017: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe lost her appeal to overturn her sentence.

November 2017: She is hit with fresh charges of spreading propaganda just days after Boris Johnson told British MPs she has been training journalists in Iran.

August 2018: She is temporarily released so she can spend time with her young daughter Gabriella, but is quickly sent back to prison where she suffers a panic attack.

March 2020: Released on house arrest after Covid-19 started sweeping through Iran.

March 2021: Released from house arrest at the end of her sentence but banned from leaving the country.

April 2021: She is sentenced to a new term in jail on charges of propaganda against Iran’s ruling system, charges she denies.

March 2022: Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is given back her passport and is freed before being taken to Tehran Airport to return to London.

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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 today 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.

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.’ 

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

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

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

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.

The British mother held on spurious charges by Iran regime  

Nazanin 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.

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

Describing their first date, Richard 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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‘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.’

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 UN panel has criticized 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.

‘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. 

‘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.’

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.’

Source: dailymail

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