On Thursday, March 17th, a British citizen detained in Iran for six years on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government returned to the UK to be reunited safely with her family.
In 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held prisoner by the Iranian government. She was accused of plotting against the theocratic regime that has ruled that country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always denied the charges, saying that she was innocently visiting the Middle Eastern nation—where she holds dual citizenship with her British one—in the company of her daughter Gabriella.
Nevertheless, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard—without ever making the official charges public—accused Zaghari-Ratcliffe of leading a “foreign-linked hostile network.” She was sentenced to five years in prison.
In November 2017, the then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation worse by blundering in front of a select committee. He stated in this public setting that the imprisoned British citizen was “simply teaching people journalism” in Tehran—a mistaken comment for which he later apologised, as it undermined Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s insistence to the Iranian authorities, who capitalised on Johnson’s remark, that she was there purely for family reasons. At the time, there were many calls made for Johnson, now Prime Minister, to resign as Foreign Secretary.
Five years later, she has finally been reunited with her family, but only after years of campaigning for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. This is especially true of her husband Richard, who went on a three-week hunger strike urging the British Foreign Office to work harder to secure his imprisoned wife’s freedom.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe touched down at Brize Norton, a Royal Air Force station based in Oxfordshire, in the early hours of Thursday morning to be greeted by her husband and their daughter Gabriella, now seven years old.
According to the BBC, her release was finalised shortly after the UK settled a debt with the Iranian government dating back to the 1970s. Fifty years ago, Iran had spent almost £400 million as part of an order to obtain British tanks and armoured vehicles. But London later cancelled it after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, refusing to refund the new theocratic government for the undelivered military equipment.
Liz Truss, now Foreign Secretary, has announced that the sum will be paid, albeit in compliance with financial sanctions on Iran. But the British government denies that there is any connection between this decision to reimburse the Iranian regime and the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told the BBC that the payment was “not contingent on the release of any detainees” and added that government had “never accepted our nationals being used as political leverage, including to try and secure the IMS [International Military Services] debt repayment.” The Foreign Secretary has said the exact terms will remain confidential, although she did clarify that, “these funds will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods.”