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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employer kept her job open while she was detained in Iran for six years and have promoted her in her absence.
The freed mother-of-one, who remains in a British Government safe house with her family until at least next week, returned home to her family in an emotional reunion on Wednesday night after she was finally freed.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomas Reuters Foundation as a project manager before she was detained at Tehran Airport in 2016 and accused of attempting to overthrow the Iranian Government, a charge she has always rigorously denied.
She shared her first family selfie with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella today after the family spent their first night together in six years on Wednesday.
Husband Richard, who campaigned tirelessly for her release and was instrumental in securing her freedom, told the Times that Nazanin would like to focus on being a full-time mother in the immediate future but that she has not ruled out returning to a campaigning role.
He told the newspaper: ‘People come out with an extra will to make up for lost time and to stop others having to battle against the bad guys that they feel are responsible.
‘And that can take different directions. While I’m sure she’s happy today, I can’t tell where her head will be in six months. I’m sure she’s feeling a lot less angry today than she was a week ago.
‘There’s nothing like freedom for changing your perspective.’
Nazanin worked as a project manager for the Thomas Reuter Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly.
In an interview by the charity after her release, Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Antonio Zappulla described her as ‘a very dedicated and bubbly colleague’, adding: ‘I didn’t know just how resilient she is. I have nothing but admiration. Nazanin’s life was upended, but her spirit was never broken. She is a truly remarkable woman, with a truly remarkable family.’
Mr Zappulla said the charity had supported her throughout her detention in Iran and said she is welcome back whenever she is ready.
He said: ‘We will be providing all the support we can. Nazanin has continued to be a member of staff ever since the day she was detained. When she wants to come back her job will be there for her.’
He told the Times the foundation had never replaced Nazanin, adding: ‘In fact, we promoted her while she was away.’
It comes as Nazanin shared the first family selfie with her husband Richard and daughter Gabrielle following her release.
Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe has shared her first family selfie with her husband Richard and daughter Gabrielle following her release from an Iranian jail after ‘six years of hell’
The family have been reunited after the mother-of-one’s harrowing six-year stint in an Iranian jail on trumped-up spy charges (pictured before her arrest)
The freed mother-of-one, who will remain in a British Government safe house with her family until the weekend, shared the photo with her MP Tulip Siddiq who has campaigned for her freedom
This is the moment Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was reunited with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella at RAF Brize Norton
The family shared the photo with their MP Tulip Siddiq who has also campaigned relentlessly for her freedom.
Ms Siddiq said: ‘So lovely to have uplifting conversations with Richard and Nazanin today. They are both relentless in their pursuit of justice and raised the plight of Morad Tahbaz with me.
‘Here I was hoping to sleep for a week… Here’s their first family selfie!’
Her parents-in-law John and Barbara have joked that their son’s north London home needs to be cleaned up urgently because it is in an ‘appalling’ state after years of living without her – and they are considering heading up from Hampshire to do it themselves.
Nazanin’s friends and neighbours in North London said Richard and Gabriella are ‘obviously absolutely overjoyed that mummy is home. There is so much going on and they need time to adjust but Richard said that they just wanted to settle back into normal life – taking walks in the park, going out for a coffee.’
The neighbour added: ‘Richard said that Nazanin was most excited about taking Gabriella to school in the morning and picking her up at the end of the day like any other parent. I’m so happy for them.’
Another neighbour said: ’They left here on Wednesday afternoon and Richard said that they were unlikely to be back for a couple of days. I think that now they are all back together, coming home for the first time will feel like taking their first steps towards returning to normality.’
Home at last: The Zaghari-Ratcliffe family are finally reunited after Nazanin was detained for nearly six years in Iran
Nazanin holds her daughter close after landing on British soil for the first time in six years in the early hours of this morning
Meanwhile Richard’s father John Ratcliffe told BBC Breakfast that his son’s home is ‘appalling’, to which his wife, Barbara, replied: ‘It is, but if you can think about it, it was a three-bedroom flat when Nazanin got taken and they’d only got a baby in it. Well, that baby’s grown up’.
Mrs Ratcliffe added that the home is full of Gabriella’s toys and campaign material, and that she and her husband have kept some campaign things at their home, and suggested that ‘maybe we should all be up there at the moment tidying’, adding: ‘There’s lots of texts going around about who’s going to tidy up the flat’.
Mr Ratcliffe said that Nazanin, Gabriella and Richard are ‘going to be in a house or accommodation provided by the Foreign Office for a couple of days and then we hope to see them at the weekend’.
When asked about his son, he said: ‘I think Jeremy Hunt in the Commons yesterday described him as the bravest person he’d met and I think that’s a fitting tribute to him.’
Nazanin’s first hours of freedom in the UK involved enjoying a cup of tea with her family and then sharing a bed with her husband and daughter after returning to Britain following almost six years of detention in Iran.
At around 1.15am the British-Iranian landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire where she was reunited with Richard and Gabriella, who had refused to believe her mother was coming home after several ‘false dawns’ and 2,173 days of tortuous detention by Ayatollah Khamenei’s hardline regime.
In an extraordinary and emotional video filmed by the daughter of Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, who was also released by Iran yesterday in return for a £400million debt repayment, the seven-year-old can be heard yelling ‘mummy, mummy – is that mummy?’ as Nazanin walks down the steps of the British jet with Mr Ashoori.
Pure joy: Nazanin shares an emotional moment with her seven-year-old daughter Gabriella after landing back in the UK
Liz Truss was there to meet the family at the RAF base in Oxfordshire and tweeted: ‘Nazanin and Anoosheh have landed safely in the UK and are reunited with their families and loved ones. Welcome home’
Richard Ratcliffe has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s release, including going on a hunger strike outside Ms Truss’ Foreign Office
In an emotional reunion shared by Mr Ashoori’s daughter, Nazanin was pictured tearfully embracing her seven-year-old daughter Gabriella and her husband Richard Ratcliffe who has campaigned relentlessly for her freedom and return to the UK
Finally reunited: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured holding her seven-year-old daughter Gabriella and with her husband Richard, and Anoosheh Ashoori with family members including his daughter Elika after landing in the UK this morning
Anousheh Ashoori embraces family members after landing at RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, with Nazanin
Pictured: British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and dual national Anoosheh Ashoori, who were freed from Iran
Pictured: A car with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe leaves the Royal Airforce Base in Brize Norton, in the early hours of Thursday
Revealed: Nazanin’s family organised a ‘welcome home’ party LAST YEAR after being told a deal had been done with Iran before their hopes were dashed again
The family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe believed she would be released last year and threw a ‘welcome home party’ that was cancelled at the 11th hour, it emerged today.
Tulip Siddiq accused the Government of doing a deal with Iranians in 2021 – but changed their minds.
A party thrown in her honour was then called off.
Over the past weekend Nazanin feared they were about to hit her with more trumped up charges during a surprise interrogation – before handing over her passport.
Ms Siddiq said: ‘There were many times when we thought it would happen, especially last year when we knew a deal had been reached last year but then at the last minute Britain pulled out. We were having a celebration party and then she didn’t turn up.
‘This time we were cautious and over the weekend she was picked up by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for questioning, we were a bit apprehensive about what was going to happen, and astonishingly what happened at the end of it, they handed her back her British passport.
‘And then said in a threatening manner: ‘Don’t book your own flight, we’ll do it for you’. And that was our first glimmer of hope’.
Expanding on her final interrogation her husband Richard told the Daily Mail this week: ‘I was really worried it was bad news, but it was good news.
‘They told her they would give her British and Iranian passports back, but then gave her a serious talking-to. It put the fear of God into her.’
Even with those travel documents finally in her hands there were no guarantees.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sent home but summoned again on Monday by the Revolutionary Guard who said that they needed to discuss her passport. ‘They told her, ‘Make sure your husband is careful. If you do that, we’ll let you go’,’ her husband said.
Richard was right to go public with his campaign to get his wife freed by Iran, the couple’s local MP also said.
Ms Siddiq said Mr Ratcliffe was advised by the Foreign Office to stay quiet – but she thinks he was right not to.
‘When Richard first came to me he was very clear about the fact that the Foreign Office had said to him he must stay quiet and he can’t talk about his wife’s detention,’ she told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘But he said after not having any news from Nazanin because she was in solitary confinement right at the beginning, he felt he had no choice but to go public.
‘Some people might disagree with this and the Foreign Office told us many times ‘We could have got Nazanin out earlier if you didn’t make such and song and dance about this’ but Richard disagreed with that.
‘Throughout the course of the years, I think I have come round to thinking about Richard and thinking he was probably right.
‘I think we did put pressure on particularly the current Prime Minister by being so vocal and public and campaigning.’
It brought to a close six years of hell for the charity worker, who suffered extreme psychological torture, solitary confinement and hardship in jail in Tehran thanks to the trumped-up spying charges she was convicted of.
The moment Richard and Gabriella were reunited was not filmed – though the tears of joy can be heard – but a picture of the ecstatic family was taken seconds later. Nazanin then emerges from behind a blue screen and cannot stop tenderly hugging and kissing her only child, who she had not seen or touched for three years. Nazanin holds her daughter’s hands and strokes her hair throughout the reunion, leaning in for regular kisses and cuddles.
During one tender embrace Gabriella tells her: ‘You smell nice’, to which her mother laughs and hugs her again saying: ‘Do I smell nice? I haven’t had a shower for 24 hours. Is that okay?’. They hug again as Richard says: ‘She smells nice to daddy’. Nazanin then holds her daughter’s hand again and says: ‘I will be back in just a minute’ and then looks down at her and says: ‘That is a very very cool jumper’. Gabriella had also picked out her favourite toys to show her mother on her return.
The family were also met by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who signed off on the £400m debt owed by Britain to Tehran from the 1970s that secured her release, before being moved to a safe house where Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella shared a bed together after so long apart, Richard’s sister Rebecca Ratcliffe said today.
The couple’s local MP Tulip Siddiq said that the family are now going to have to rebuild their life together, while former hostage Terry Waite said it will take Nazanin ‘some time’ to recover from the ‘trauma’ she has suffered in Iranian prison.
Ms Siddiq said: ‘They are very different people now. There is going to be a huge process of getting to know each other again and Gabriella has to trust her mother again as well’.
She added: ‘Gabriella came back [to the UK] three years ago and when I first met her didn’t speak any English and now she’s forgotten her Farsi and only speaks English.
‘So she’s really gone through a transition in the seven years she’s been alive. But when she heard mummy was coming home, she thought her father was joking. She said to her dad ”you’re pulling my leg” and she reconfirmed with me when she saw me yesterday said ”is it true that mummy’s really coming home?’ and my heart just broke because there’s this little girl who’s been promised her mother is coming home. And then she started playing the piano and singing and dancing and that was just lovely.’
Nazanin and her family are in government accommodation today. It is not known if or when they will return to their north London home.
Her sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe told the BBC: ‘We’ve had a beautiful photo of Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella all together.
‘Then they went back, they’re staying with Anousheh and his family in a safe house somewhere undisclosed.
‘And I suspect just had cups of tea and stuff and Gabriella slept in between Richard and Nazanin last night for the first time in six years, so a very special moment.
‘I’ve had a message from Richard this morning, everyone else is still asleep. I imagine they’re all pretty tired but he was certainly very buoyant this morning.
‘He just said that he’d had a busy day, a busy night, they got to sleep not long ago but it was lovely to be with his family again. But also interestingly he pointed out today’s the 17th March and six years ago on 17th March Nazanin flew out so there’s a certain amount of symmetry in his story.’
She also told Good Morning Britain: ‘Seeing that footage of her touching down in the arms of Richard and Gabriella was just really overwhelming.
‘It feels a little bit like Christmas morning, waiting for Santa and then Santa finally arriving.’ She said that the family has has several ‘close calls’ over the years ‘where there’ve been planes waiting to take her home or phone calls from the British Embassy that she’s about to come home, and so we’ve found it really hard this week to get too excited’.
Terry Waite has supported Nazanin as ‘for many years’ and said today ‘is a wonderful day’ now she is back home.
He said: ‘Over the past 12 months it’s been possible to have conversation with Nazanin via the internet and also to exchange emails, and the purpose of that really was to keep in touch with her obviously and to enable her to maintain hope, because this has been, as you all know, a terrible rollercoaster ride.
British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has finally arrived in the UK with fellow detainee Anoosheh Ashoori bringing to a close her momentous journey home after six years in detention in Iran. Pictured: their arrival at RAF Brize Norton
Nazanin and Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, with the pilots who brought them back to the UK overnight
‘One moment it looked as though she was going to go back to prison and then it looked as though she was going to be released, and so on and so forth. So that has been the purpose of those conversations.
‘And now when she’s out, my strong advice is – as Richard has already confirmed – first of all there’s the welcome and all the attention and all the excitement of coming home. But after that, get out of the public limelight, just take it easy, get back and give yourself time to process this whole long and very difficult experience – and it does take time.
Terry Waite: Nazanin needs time to recover from her ‘trauma’ in Iran and says a returning to life after captivity is like having ‘The Bends’
Terry Waite has urged Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to treat trauma like a doctor would treat the bends.
Mr Waite, who lives in Suffolk, ‘eased himself back into normal life’ and urged Nazanin to do the same. He was captured in Lebanon in January 1987 and held captive – most of it in solitary confinement.
He also had contact with Nazanin when she was in an Iranian jail, urging her to ‘take every say as it comes’.
Mr Waite said: ‘After a long period away, you really need time to readjust. Things have changed, you have changed, the family have changed, her daughter has grown – it’s wonderful to see everybody again, but it does take time to readjust and get accustomed to the new situation that you are in.
‘I went away – I lived in Trinity Hall, Cambridge where I had a fellowship for the middle part of the week, and went home at weekends. And that was really a very good thing to do. People said at the time ‘aha, everything’s breaking up’ – far from the truth.
‘Someone once said to me, and I’ve repeated this many times, when you come out of an experience of trauma, take it easy, take it as if you’re coming up from the sea – if you come up too quickly, you’ll get ‘the bends’. If you come up gently, there’s a good chance that things will be OK. That’s really good advice to follow.’
‘It’s not easy, and yet the conversations were easy. Nazanin was able to speak to me from home and therefore was in a more relaxed situation, and so we could have a relaxed conversation together. And she’s been remarkably resilient over the last year, remarkably resilient, over the whole period. But she did have a very hard time in the prison. A prison myself that I’ve been into many years ago to bring hostages home.
‘When I heard that she was at the airport, I really was very apprehensive, because I do remember years ago when I got a number of hostages to the airport and were about to come home.
And the very last moment we were turned away, we couldn’t get on the flight, we’d been through all the processes. And I was just hoping that would not happen to her. Fortunately it didn’t. And this is some good news at a time when we really need it, when the world is in a dreadful state.’
Nazanin broke down in tears as she was reunited with her seven-year-old daughter just minutes after landing back on British soil following almost six years of detention in Iran.
The charity worker embraced daughter Gabriella and husband Richard Ratcliffe, whose relentless campaigning since 2016 helped secure his wife’s freedom, bringing a close to her momentous journey back home to the UK.
The mother-of-one left Iran with fellow British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, on Wednesday after their release was secured.
In an emotional video shared by Mr Ashoori’s daughter Elika, they can be seen tearfully hugging ecstatic family members only minutes after landing back in the UK.
Seven-year-old Gabby shouted ‘Mummy’ before running to meet Nazanin who burst into tears as she entered the building before Richard joined them for a poignant reunion which lasted for more than an hour at the base.
In a message shared online, the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family said: ‘No place like home. Thank you to everyone who made this possible, to all of the care and campaigning, and diplomatic efforts. You have made us whole.’
It is understood the families are being put up in Government-supported accommodation for the night.
The plane touched down at RAF Brize Norton at 1.08am following an eight-hour flight from Oman. Prior to that, the British nationals had boarded a flight from Tehran, where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first detained six years ago.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori, who was locked up in Evin prison for almost five years, were accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government and of spying respectively, which they have consistently and vigorously denied.
A third British detainee, Morad Tahbaz, has been released from prison on furlough but remains in Iran.
Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe said he was ‘deeply grateful’ for her release and that he and their daughter Gabriella were ‘looking forward to a new life’. He said she had asked for him to make her a cup of tea on her arrival home.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘There will probably be a couple of days peace and quiet somewhere else, and then back here.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe departed the plane first, followed by Mr Ashoori, before the pair walked down the steps away from the aircraft together.
The British-Iranian mother waved at cameras as she walked into a reception building at the Oxfordshire airport, while Mr Ashoori, who was carrying a magazine, gave a salute.
After finally leaving Tehran, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and fellow detainee Anousheh Ashoori arrived at Muscat in Oman at about 3.30pm UK time yesterday before travelling to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on a Titan Airways Boeing jet which was chartered privately by the UK Government.
Their release follows months of intensive diplomatic negotiations between London and Tehran, including the eventual payment of an outstanding £400 million debt owed by Britain to the regime.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss, who is at RAF Brize Norton for their arrival, said on Twitter: ‘Delighted that Nazanin and Anoosheh have landed safely in the UK and are reunited with their families and loved ones. Welcome home.’
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori were initially taken to the Gulf state of Oman, which has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure their freedom.
‘The first thing she wanted was for me to make her a cup of tea, so we will do (that). I think actually we were looking at the house and it needs a bit of tidying, so there might be a bit of tidying, perhaps directed by mummy.’
He added that he had been ‘kept out of’ discussions about the debt the UK owed Iran, which Foreign Secretary Liz Truss confirmed had been settled.
Asked by broadcasters about this, Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘We have obviously been kept out of the loop on it and at various points I’ve said, ‘look, listen, this is why she’s being held, it is why it has gone on so long, and this is not our fight, please solve it’. And until this point we have been kept out of it.’
He told the Times Nazanin will begin spending her first day home ‘learning how to be happy again’, adding: ‘There’s no solace looking back at the time we have lost.’
Charity worker Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 44, travelled to an airport in Tehran yesterday to come home to her family in the UK along with another detained British-Iranian, Anoosheh 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.
Later, Badr Albusaidi, foreign minister for the Sultanate of Oman, tweeted a picture of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashouri after they landed in Muscat.
He said: ‘Nazanin and Anoosheh have arrived safely in Oman. Sincere thanks for the hard work and good faith in Tehran and London that made this possible. Soon they will be with their loved ones at home. We hope this result will bring further progress in the dialogue between the parties.’
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.
On her way home: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plane took off at about 6pm, landing in the UK after 1am
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has returned to the UK following her six-year detention in Iran after her flight from Muscat, Oman
The family’s reunion, which will undoubtedly be emotional, will take place in a private room inside the building
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe greeting dignitaries after touching down in Oman on a Royal Air Force of Oman jet yesterday afternoon
Richard and Gabriella Ratcliffe meeting the MP Tulip Siddiq in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon
Richard Ratcliffe is seen outside his London home today with daughter Gabriella after news of the release of his wife Nazanin
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and officials from the Foreign Commonwealth and Development listen on the phone as they hear the moment that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has boarded the plane in Tehran after being detained in Iran for six years
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
Pictured: British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella
Mr Ratcliffe, who lives in London, said the situation had been kept ‘behind closed doors’, adding: ‘So I don’t know what’s happened, I’ve seen briefings and so on. I’m relieved the problem has been solved.
Who are the Britons who were released in Iran?
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.
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, 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.
‘I think the Government has two jobs – to protect people in situations like this and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
‘Part of that is to do what you need to do to get people home and part of that is to ensure those who took her learn the lesson not to continue doing it – and that second part is for another day, but for today I’m really glad the way things are.’
Asked what he wanted to say to people who had campaigned for his wife’s release, Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘Just ‘thank you’. We wouldn’t have got here, this wouldn’t have happened today, without all the care and support of people up and down the country. That’s ordinary people, people in the media, people in politics, some celebrities.
‘But just the overwhelming care we’ve had. And I remember saying this on the hunger strike – this has been a cruel experience in some ways, but it has also been an exposure to such a level of kindness and care from all walks of life.’
He said he was ‘deeply grateful’ to all who had worked to bring dual-nationals captured in Iran back to Britain.
Mr Ratcliffe described his wife as ‘pretty agitated’ in the run-up to getting on a plane out of Iran, but said the family was ‘looking forward to a new life’.
Speaking about how she had been feeling, he said: ‘Pretty agitated as the day went on. I mean, anxious – it has been bumpy.
‘There have been some scary conversations in the last couple of days as well, with people trying to make sure she would be well behaved when she came back.
‘There is a big grin on her face in that photo (on the plane). It is going to be lovely to see her, lovely to catch up with her. We’ve chosen which toys we’re taking so that she can get to see them. We’re looking forward to a new life.’
Asked how the family planned to make up for six years apart, he said: ‘There is a recovery process – you can’t get back the time that is gone, that’s a fact. But we live in the future and not the past, so we’ll take it one day at a time.’
And asked if a hug would ‘make all this hardship worthwhile’, he said: ‘I’m not sure it was all worthwhile. I think it is going to be the beginning of a new life, a normal life, and hopefully a happy family.
‘And there will be bumps, no doubt, and all the normal squabbles we had before but, yeah, I think we’re really looking forward to seeing her.’
Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘Homecoming is a journey, not an arrival. I don’t think it will just be today, there will be a whole process, and hopefully we’ll look back in years to come and just be a normal family and this will be a chapter in our lives, but there are many more chapters to come.’
He also expressed thanks for the help given by UK Government and Foreign Office officials, along with ‘ministers at different points’, and MPs, during the campaign to bring Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe back to Britain.
He added: ‘It has been a tough journey for all of us for lots of different reasons and I’m really grateful for the grace, patience and stoicism that they have shown to get Nazanin home.’
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
Mr Ashoori was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran while Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained on security charges by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran, where she introduced her daughter Gabriella to her parents.
Her family’s Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who has long campaigned for her release, tweeted a picture earlier today of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe on a plane officially leaving Iran 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.’
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’.
Charity group REDRESS, which supports torture survivors and has campaigned for Nazanin’s release since 2016, said they were relieved she was on her way home.
Rupert Skilbeck, Director at REDRESS 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 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.’
The family of Anoosheh Ashoori said they were ‘delighted’ he had been released, adding: ‘This day has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in bringing Anoosheh home.
‘1,672 days ago our family’s foundations were rocked when our father and husband was unjustly detained and taken away from us. Now, we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place.’
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.
Ms 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: ‘The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, and the furlough of Morad Tahbaz are huge achievements for British diplomacy.
‘I pay tribute to the tireless efforts of those who have worked for six years to make today’s events possible.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said he felt ‘quite choked up’ about the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori as he admitted the situation had taken ‘too long’ to resolve.
Speaking on Times Radio, he said: ‘I wasn’t sure I’d ever see the day when we’d see on our TV screens that Nazanin, Anoosheh, are coming home. Their families are amazing and I, you know, sometimes I despaired.
‘But, you know, lots and lots of people worked really hard to make this happen. I think Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, is one of the bravest people I’ve ever met and he kept the issue in the public eye.
‘So look, I think it took too long. But I think that the reality is that we have now solved this issue and that is something to celebrate.’
Former prime minister David Cameron said the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was ‘a piece of good news that we’ve all been waiting to hear for so long’.
Mr Cameron, who was in No 10 when Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran, told Channel 4 News: ‘You can just only imagine what it’d be like to be separated from your family for so long, and have so much heartache, and you just feel for this family getting back together again and wish them well.
‘It’s fantastic news.’
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.
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.
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.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sister-in-law said it is a ‘day of joy’ for the family. Rebecca Ratcliffe told Sky News: ‘It is a bit overwhelming, to be honest.
‘Six years of campaigning solidly, always hoping for that day to come and never really quite realising when it is going to come, and suddenly … she’s finally on that plane and coming home. It is a real day of joy for us.’
She said the couple’s seven-year-old daughter Gabriella was looking forward to finally being reunited with her mother.
‘She knew yesterday that mummy had had her passport back and hopefully that mummy would come back very soon.
‘But of course Gabriella has been told quite a few times before mummy is going to come back home, so I suspect Gabriella won’t quite believe it.
‘But tonight will be quite an emotional scene for Gabriella and Richard when they are finally reunited and she gets to hug her mummy and actually gets her mummy to kiss her goodnight, which is what she’s wanted for a long time now.’
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.
Ms Truss said: ‘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.
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, 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
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
‘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.
Family of Anoosheh Ashoori are ‘delighted’ as he returns to Britain after four years in jail in Iran
By David Pilditch for MailOnline
The family of Anoosheh Ashoori told how they were ‘delighted’ as the retired engineer returned to Britain after more than four years languishing in a hell-hole jail in Iran.
As they awaited an emotional reunion with Mr Ashoori, 67, his wife Sherry Izadi and children Elika and Aryan said: ‘This day has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in bringing Anoosheh home.’
The family hurriedly left their home in Lee, south east London, after Mr Ashoori was dramatically released before boarding a plane back to Britain.
Anoosheh Ashoori is pictured with his wife Sherry Izadi (file)
They have campaigned tirelessly to win the freedom of Mr Ashoori, who has duel British and Iranian citizenship, since he was detained in Tehran accused of being a spy in August 2017.
He was snatched off the street in Tehran after returning to the country to visit his elderly mother.
Now the family are looking forward to celebrating Mr Ashoori’s birthday in three weeks time.
Elika, 35, has told how normally happy occasions had become too much to bear during their years of emotional torment and uncertainty.
Speaking last June she said: ‘Each year that goes by, a little bit of hope dies along with it. A year of life that never comes back, a year our family could have been together but missed forever.
‘I try not to even dwell on the big days anymore. The less I focus on Father’s Day, birthdays or Christmas, the less painful it is to go through them.
‘I see signs, newsletters and shop adverts everywhere saying, ‘Treat your dad this Father’s Day’, or ‘Have you told your dad you love him this Father’s Day?’, and there is no way to cope with these constant reminders other than to try really, really hard to ignore them.
She told how she felt ‘constantly angry and powerless’ with her father trapped in Evin Prison in Tehran.
In a phone recording recently smuggled out of jail last year, Mr Ashoori had expressed his anguish at the extended separation from his family, with his wife saying she could ‘hear tears in his voice’ and ‘sense the desperation in him’.
Mr Ashoori was arrested by Iranian Military Intelligence officials who pounced as he was walking along a street close to his mother’s house.
Four men in plain clothes forced him into their car, ordered him to put on a blindfold and drove him to an unknown location.
Later that same day, intelligence agents took him to his mother’s house to collect his mobile telephone, computer, wallet and passports before transferring him to Evin prison.
The next day, he was allowed a brief telephone call to his mother to inform her about his detention.
He was held incommunicado for several weeks under the control of the ministry of intelligence.
There, he was held in solitary confinement for more than six weeks and interrogated repeatedly without a lawyer present.
He said that during questioning his interrogators warned him that his family in the UK was under surveillance by Iranian intelligence agents.
He also told his family that his interrogators forced him to sign multiple documents, including ‘confessions’, under torture and other ill-treatment.
Mr Ashoori was forced to endure a ‘grossly unfair’ trial before being convicted of cooperating with a hostile state and jailed for ten years.
His family said he suffered failing health during his time held captive in the country in ‘a crowded and unsanitary jail’.
His wife has told how wife he attempted suicide twice and went on a 17-day hunger strike in protest against his unlawful detention.
‘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.’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he had authorised the release of the funds to settle the debt.
In a written Commons statement, he said: ‘On Thursday 10th March 2022 I authorised the release of £393.8 million to discharge the debt owed by the Ministry of Defence-owned company, International Military Services Limited (IMS).
‘The debt resulted from contracts which were signed between IMS Ltd and the pre-revolution Iranian government.
‘Following the Iranian revolution, the contracts were not fulfilled, despite pre-payments made by Iran to the UK. The UK courts and the International Court of Arbitration (ICC) subsequently confirmed that the debt was still owed to the Iranian government.
‘The payment of the debt reflects the UK Government’s determination to meet that international obligation, while seeking to ensure that such funds can only be used in accordance with applicable sanctions, and domestic counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation, for example to purchase humanitarian goods.
‘I have been a consistent campaigner on IMS settlement, including as Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Iran and securing a Westminster Hall debate in March 2014 in which I called to ‘honour the debt once and for all’.
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, said: ‘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 said: ‘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 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
‘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.’
But shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the UK Government needed to ‘learn its own lessons’ following the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, accusing ‘Boris Johnson’s bungling diplomacy’ of making the situation worse for her at times while detained in Iran.
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
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.’
The Labour MP said: ‘The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori is wonderful news that is long overdue.
‘It is shameful that for years the Iranian government used the freedom of British nationals as political bargaining chips.
‘The British government must learn its own lessons over how Boris Johnson’s bungling diplomacy at times made the situation worse.
‘We pay tribute to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori, and their families who showed extraordinary strength and courage in the face of an unimaginable ordeal.
‘Now they finally have the freedom they deserve.’
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.’
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.
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.
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.
Victoria Coren Mitchell and Claudia Winkleman’s support for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
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
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.
‘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.’
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.’
The devoted husband who never gave up, the little girl whose family was torn apart and innocent mother who was locked up in Iran’s worst jail for crimes she never committed: Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe’s heart-wrenching six-year battle for freedom
By Rory Tingle, Home Affairs Correspondent for MailOnline
Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe’s return to the UK marks the end of a heart-wrenching six-year battle for freedom. Locked up in Iran’s bleakest jail for crimes she never committed, she would experience unimaginable suffering – not least the prospect of never again seeing her accountant husband, Richard, or young daughter, Gabriella.
Thousands of miles away in Britain, Richard Ratcliffe would prove her devoted and steadfast advocate, mounting a tireless campaign of hunger strikes and protests as well as hundreds of media interviews where he would inspire millions with his extraordinary stoicism, courage and unfailing decency.
But for Gabriella – growing up in Iran with her grandparents – he would grow into a distant figure who she only ever saw on a screen. Once, the child would heartbreakingly ask her mother, ‘Do you know Daddy? Have you ever met Daddy?’ Gabriella would go on to join her father in the UK – leaving Nazanin even more isolated.
Richard would describe how his wife became a ‘chess piece’ in a wider political game, and her fate would become intertwined with the fickle world of global geopolitics. Over the years regular glimmers of hope would emerge only to be instantly snuffed out.
Imprisoned by Iran’s brutal secret courts, Nazanin would be chained, blindfolded, and bombarded with bright lights and blaring TVs to deprive her of sleep. The British-Iranian charity worker would then be subjected to gruelling interrogations lasting for nine hours.
The nightmare began in 2016 when Nazanin was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Tehran Airport after visiting her parents in Iran with Gabriella, then aged one
The nightmare began in 2016 when Nazanin was arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Tehran Airport after visiting her parents in Iran with Gabriella, then aged one.
Video aired on state TV showed the mother looking shocked as she was asked to show her passport and step away from the check-in area before being led away in darkness.
After 45 days in solitary confinement without legal counsel or medical treatment, she was eventually sentenced to five years in prison for spying following a secret trial. She lost an appeal.
Back in Britain, Richard Ratcliffe was now separated both from his wife and his daughter, who stayed in Iran with her grandparents. He began his long campaign for her release.
It was to be long, exhausting and punctuated with repeated false starts and flashes of hope that quickly faded to nothing thanks to the continual scheming of Iran’s tyrannical leaders.
But Richard kept going through it all, inspired by his love for a woman he met through mutual friends in 2007 after she secured a scholarship at London Metropolitan University to study for a masters in communication.
Describing their first date, Richard said they ‘clicked’ and he felt like he had ‘come home’. They married just two years later in Winchester and Gabriella was born in June 2014.
Following his wife’s imprisonment in 2016, Richard became a regular feature on news channels and TV talk shows, where he inspired audiences with his remarkable tenacity in fighting his wife’s cause.
Boris Johnson, as Foreign Secretary, took a prominent role in fighting for Nazanin’s release, but caused untold damage to the campaign by notoriously telling MPs she had been involved in ‘training’ Iranian journalists.
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
This was treated by Tehran as an ‘unintended confession’ that flew in the face of her family’s claim she was in Iran purely on a family visit – and days later she was hit with fresh charges of spreading propaganda.
After repeated calls to resign, Mr Johnson eventually apologised 12 days later. Richard later criticised his initial failure to ‘take responsibility’ for his actions, but with his customary level-headedness added that the true blame lay with the Iranians.
The first of a series of false starts came in August 2018, when Nazanin was temporarily released from prison to spend time with Gabriella, only to be sent back after she suffered a panic attack.
Richard branded the move ‘a cruel power game’, a suggestion confirmed months later when Iran’s supreme leader, Hassan Rouhani, demanded the release of ‘Iranians languishing in American prisons’ before he would consider freeing Nazanin.
When it emerged she had developed lumps on her breast – indicating possible breast cancer – she was repeatedly refused medical visits.
As Nazanin announced a hunger strike, Richard revealed her deteriorating mental state in a series of interviews, including her ‘despair’ at turning 40 alone in her prison cell with the prospect of never being able to have a second child.
He also told of the pain of his separation from Gabriella, who he was only able to speak to on FaceTime. He told Huff Post: ‘Gabriella asked her mum about six months ago ”Do you know Daddy? Have you ever met Daddy?”
‘Of course for her I’m just a face on the phone. Nazanin was mortified, horrified.’
He also revealed that he still buys her presents every year, including a handbag and a furry hat, and has them wrapped up waiting for her to return home.
Nazanin, a British-Iranian dual national, is pictured beaming after her five-year jail term came to an end in 2020. She would go on to be jailed again
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe
The following year – 2019 – brought a redoubling of diplomatic efforts to save Nazanin, who was given diplomatic protection to allow her case to be raised at the United Nations.
A glimmer of hope emerged in April after Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, mooted the idea of a prisoner swap, only to backtrack just hours later.
It had long been feared Nazanin was being held by Tehran as a ‘bargaining chip’ over a historical £400million debt owed by Britain following a thwarted arms deal.
Then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt likened the debt to ‘ransom money’, with officials said to be concerned about the money ending up in the pockets of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – declared a terrorist organisation by the US.
Continued claims of mistreatment at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison led Nazanin to mount another hunger strike – with her husband, Richard, joining her in solidarity by setting up camp outside the Iranian embassy and refusing to eat for the duration of the protest.
2020: Posing with a pink satchel made by her mummy, Gabriella ready for her first day at school
In July, she was transferred to a hospital mental ward and spent a week ‘chained to a bed’ in solitary confinement – an experience so grim a ‘broken’ Nazanin declared herself relieved when she was eventually returned to prison.
She was later to lose the comfort of weekly visits from her daughter, Gabriella, when she was returned to Britain in order to be reunited with her father and start school.
On her first day in January 7, 2020, Gabriella would wear a pink satchel made by her mother – the usually happy milestone tinged with sadness with her mother still thousands of miles away in an Iranian jail.
Mr Ratcliffe was the one to brush her hair – something his wife had always said she wanted to do when Gabriella first went to school. ‘The moment wasn’t bittersweet exactly,’ he said. ‘It’s a different kind of emotional challenge for Nazanin.’
‘She has missed her first day of school. It’s a big one she’s not there for… She should’ve been the one brushing her hair, walking her to the school gates and meeting the other parents.’
Worsening relations between Iran and the West prompted further worries, with Richard describing the assassination of Revolutionary Guard leader Qassem Soleimani as a ‘hammer blow’ to their hopes of getting Nazanin released.
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 Nazanin 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.
On November 13, 2021, Richard ended 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.
Gabriella’s Christmas card to Mr Johnson in 2020 showed the prime minister next to the six-year-old and her parents
Later that month, Boris Johnson suggested he was open to striking a deal with Iran to secure her release, telling the Commons Liaison Committee it was ‘worth considering’ sending a plane with a ‘crate of cash’ to Iran to settle the £400m debt Britain owes the country.
Frenzied diplomatic negotiations went on behind the scenes over the following months, leading to today’s astonishing breakthrough.
Nazanin arrived in Oman yesterday afternoon after leaving Tehran following nearly ‘six years of hell’ in detention in Iran as she prepared to be reunited with her family in Britain tonight.
Her husband said he was ‘deeply grateful’ for her release and that he and their daughter Gabriella were ‘looking forward to a new life’. He said she had asked for him to make her a cup of tea on her arrival home.
Richard added: ‘There will probably be a couple of days’ peace and quiet somewhere else, and then back here. The first thing she wanted was for me to make her a cup of tea, so we will do (that).
‘I think actually we were looking at the house and it needs a bit of tidying, so there might be a bit of tidying, perhaps directed by mummy.’
Asked what he wanted to say to people who had campaigned for his wife’s release, Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘Just ”thank you”.
‘We wouldn’t have got here, this wouldn’t have happened today, without all the care and support of people up and down the country.
‘That’s ordinary people, people in the media, people in politics, some celebrities. But just the overwhelming care.’
Source: DUK News