‘I've been a pawn for six years': Nazanin speaks out for first time since release

Breaking her silence after returning to the UK, Nazanin has criticised the government's handling of her case.

Monday, 21st March — By Isabelle Stanley

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SPEAKING in public for the first time, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe told a crowd of journalists how she felt like a “pawn” in the hands of two governments before her emotional return home. 

At a press conference in the House of Commons today, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe – who has just been reunited with her family after six years imprisoned in Iran – said: “I could not be happier to be here. This shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I always felt like I was holding a black hole in my heart – but I am going to leave that black hole on the plane back.” 

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe sat next to her, while their 7-year-old daughter Gabriella played on a phone in the front row – seemingly unfazed by her parents appearing on national TV. 

For the six years she was away – locked up on vague espionage charges – her husband campaigned tirelessly for her release, going on hunger strike twice for 15 days and then 21 days. 

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, looking calm and composed, started her speech by thanking her lawyers, friends and family for their support, she said: “I have to thank my amazing husband and my daughter for being very, very patient waiting for mommy to come home.” 

Despite her gratitude, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she thinks it took far too long for her release to be arranged. Her case was linked to a £400 million debt the UK owed Iran for an unfulfilled order of tanks and when the government paid the debt last week, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was freed. 


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She said: “I have been a pawn in the hands of the two governments over the past six years… What upset me all these years was that my life was linked to something that had nothing to do with me.

“I shouldn’t have been in prison for six years. It shouldn’t have happened and it did…I have seen five foreign secretaries over the course of six years. That is unprecedented. I was told many many times that ‘oh, we’re going to get you home’. That never happened. 

“So there was a time when I felt like I’m not going to trust you because I’ve been told many times I’m gonna get taken home but that never happened.” 

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent years of her sentence in the notorious Evin prison, much of it in solitary confinement. After that, she lived with her parents under house arrest. 

When asked what it was like in solitary confinement, she declined to answer – seemingly, it was too painful to discuss. 

Despite her story appearing in worldwide headlines, and her campaign spreading across the country, she said she found it difficult to follow the news. “Prison is a very secluded place – we had visits every week, but I wanted to spend those with my daughter, so unless something was in the news, I didn’t know about it.” 

Holding her husband’s hand, she added: “And there’s a lot to know, so I think we’ll spend a lot of nights sitting up, chatting and catching up on what happened.” 

After a tense few days of negotiations, her plane arrived at the army base Brice Norton in the early hours last Thursday. She said she “didn’t feel secure until I was actually on the plane.” 

She walked down the steps and was met by an overjoyed Gabriella. She said: “That moment was precious, I had been waiting for it a long time and it was overwhelming. I was particularly overwhelmed seeing Gabriella and my husband, it was a very, very emotional moment.” 

The panel was sobered by the presence of Roxanne Tahbaz, the daughter of Morad Tahbaz, a British-Iranian national still being held captive in Iran. His family were under the impression he would be returned with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashori, but he was left behind. 

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “I know how [Ms Tahbaz] feels, it is disappointing. He should have been on the plane home with us.” She added: “The meaning of freedom will not be complete until the other dual nationals are free.” 

She does not plan to return to Iran any time soon, and instead said “I’m looking forward to taking Gabriella to school and getting to know her friends and the community.” 

Asked how it was to spend time as a family with Gabriella again, they joked that Mr Ratcliffe has been almost forgotten thanks to her mother’s return. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “It has been amazing to hold her, to braid her hair and brush her hair.” 

The life that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is returning to is greatly altered from the one she left behind – she is famous now, and her face is recognised everywhere she goes. At the end of her statement she thanked the media for their support, but also asked that they respect her privacy – that after all this time, she is wholly entitled to. 

Despite the eyes of the world’s media being fixed on her, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe stayed calm and joked: “Gabriella told me on the phone one day ‘mummy, you’re very famous now, it goes you and then me and then daddy’. And I said, ‘but I want to have a normal life’ and she said: ‘don’t worry, it will only last a week.’”

The family’s MP, Tulip Siddiq, was also on the panel and said: “I’m more commonly known as the Nazanin MP now.” She added: “My constituents here today are an ordinary family who were thrust into extraordinary circumstances and they rose to the challenge. Richard is known for campaigning, Nazanin is known for the immense strength in the face of adversity, and little Gabriela is known to be a brave soul. It was a family who never lost hope.”

Ms Siddiq has raised the family’s plight on numerous occasions in Parliament. She has now asked Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat for an inquiry into why it took so long to resolve Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, including looking into a 2013 incident when Iranian officials came to Britain to renegotiate payment of the debt and were arrested at Heathrow.

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