You might not have heard but Nazanin is home… at last!

Liz Truss claims that 'creative diplomacy' led to release of charity worker locked up in Iran

Thursday, 17th March — By Isabelle Stanley

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on the plane back to the UK, while her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella wait with Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq for the reunion

AFTER six years imprisoned in Iran­ – locked away from her husband and their seven-year-old daughter – Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe flew home last night (Wednesday).

As news of her release broke yesterday, a wave of relief spread across the country, although her husband Richard Ratcliffe said he would not feel happy until he saw her step off the plane in the UK.

You couldn’t blame him – his campaign, including two hunger strikes, has been long and hard, full of dashed hopes and false leads.

Speaking yesterday morning outside his house, Mr Ratcliffe said: “It’s a huge relief that she is on a plane and coming home. It’s been a long time, we were just saying last night, Gabriella was saying: ‘Is mummy really coming home?’ and now I can say: yes.”

He added: “It’s a happy sunny day, but there will be plenty of rain to get through too. There will be challenges ahead after six years apart. It’s a long time for any family to be apart. It’s going to be lovely to see her, lovely to catch up with her – we’ve chosen which toys we’re taking so she can see them. It’s going to be nice to get on with our new life.”

The family have already planned what they will do when she gets home – her plane was due to arrive at Brize Norton late last night.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “The first thing she always wanted was for me to make her a cup of tea, which we will do. We were looking at the house and it needs a bit of tidying, perhaps directed by mummy when she comes back.”

With a press pack on the doorstep in West Hampstead and the world wanting to speak to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 44, about her experience, the family plans to spend a few days away together before a celebration of her release.

Nearly four million million people signed the petition calling for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release and Tulip Siddiq MP, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, repeatedly raised the issue in the House of Commons and beyond.

She said: “I came into politics to make a difference, and right now I’m feeling like I have.”

Later, the MP posted a picture of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe on the plane home adding: “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 6 years of hell in Iran. My heart goes out to Gabriella and Richard, as her long journey back home to them gets closer by the minute.”

The charity worker found herself at the centre of a global news story after she was arrested at Tehran airport in Iran in April 2016.

She had been trying to return to the UK with Gabriella, their daughter, then just 22 months old.

She had been visiting her parents when she was suddenly held and separated from their daughter.

After weeks in prison in solitary confinement, given no charge or explanation, she was sentenced to five years on vague claims of spying which were always denied.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe did not find out what she was charged with for almost a year during which time she carried out a series of hunger strikes. Then Tehran’s prosecutor general claimed she had links to the British government and had been training journalists at the BBC.

Prime minister Boris Johnson, during his time as the foreign secretary, waded in unhelpfully, when he incorrectly said that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been teaching journalists – an error which Iran used against her.

Over the next four years, her family were subjected to a seemingly endless ordeal filled with broken promises, fruitless meetings and secrecy.

She ended up serving the whole sentence with all newspaper campaigns and wider exposure failing to make any difference.

It was in early 2018 that her case was first linked to the £400million debt the UK owed Iran for an order of tanks that were never delivered; a dispute that traces back to the 1970s.

At first, both sides denied her freedom was tied to this debt until 2019 when it emerged the Foreign Office had pleaded with the Ministry of Defence to finally pay back the money. By this time, Ms Zaghari Ratcliffe had been released briefly from jail for three days before suddenly being taken back.

In response, she and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, went on a coordinated hunger strike.

Then, Gabriella, who had been living with her grandparents flew to London to live with her father and start school. Mr Ratcliffe’s strike outside the Iranian embassy lasted for 15 days.

When Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s five year sentence ended in 2021, hopes of her release were high, but she was quickly sentenced to an additional year.

A few months later, Iran openly demanded the UK repay the £400 million.

As 2022 approached, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was under house arrest at her parents’ house in Iran, and with more promises from Mr Johnson and Dominic Raab but still no progress.  Mr Ratcliffe went on hunger strike again, this time outside government buildings in King Charles Street.

He camped outside, not eating or drinking for 21 days.

In that time, the New Journal visited Mr Ratcliffe nearly every day. Then on Tuesday, six years after she was first arrested, with no warning Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was given her passport back.

The day had finally come.

Yesterday, the current foreign secretary Liz Truss said in a statement that “creative diplomacy” allowed the debt to Iran to be paid.

It was announced that $530 million (roughly £400 million) was transferred to Iran, but was “ringfenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods”. Talking about the ongoing negotiations,

Rupert Skilbeck, the family’s lawyer, said: “We may never find out exactly what happened.”

He added: “It will be extremely difficult when she first arrives and extremely emotional, what a reunion for a family that’s been through so much.

“To begin with it’s for Richard, Nazanin and Gabriella to spend time together, they’re going to need family time to begin with and then there will be a celebration after they’ve been able to do that.”

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