Words by Maisie Levitt, News Online Editor

British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her passports returned and is being reunited with her husband and daughter, 6 years after her arrest in April 2016.  

The news comes after Iranian state media reported that the British government has settled the ‘long-overdue debt’ of £400m owed to Iran since the Revolution in 1979. While neither Britain nor Iran agreed that the financial row had any connection to the detainment of dual nationals, many cited this to be the source of lack of trust between the two countries. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested while visiting Iran with her daughter in April 2016, for reasons that the authorities did not initially publicise. However, they later accused her of spying, which she has always denied. The then-prime minister Theresa May eventually raised concerns in a call with the president of Iran Hassan Rouhani in August, when Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, criticised ministers for the lack of criticism about his wife’s arrest.

In September 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was imprisoned for 5 years after being convicted on charges that remained secret. Following the sentencing, Zaghari-Ratcliffe appealed multiple times against it but lost all of them. The Foreign Office states that Theresa May has raised Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight with the Iranian government again, but with no results.

Over a year later in October 2017, Tehran’s prosecutor general, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, claims that the Iranian-British citizen has links to the British government and trained journalists at the BBC, as well as running an online course in encryption. Two weeks later, the then-foreign secretary Boris Johnson sets back Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case by agreeing with Iran’s false claims about her. He tells the foreign affairs select committee “When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it.” While she had worked for the BBC World Service Trust journalist training courses, she had a uniquely administrative role booking students. Days later in a court hearing, Johnson’s comments were used as proof that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was involved in ‘propaganda against the regime’.

The Foreign Office demanded and pleaded for the government to pay the £400m owed to Iran over several years, although the Ministry of Defence continuously refused. The debt, which the British government had agreed was owed, came from a tank contract during the Iranian Revolution that never came to fruition. By 2020, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyers accuse the UK government of deliberately delaying steps to secure her release out of fear of offending the Trump administration. In 2021, the national is sentenced to another jail term of one year for unspecified charges, which she appeals. She stays with her mother while the appeal is pending.

After months of more intensive diplomatic negotiations, the UK agreed to pay £393.8m to Iran in March 2022 

 On the 15th of March 2022, Zaghari-Ratcliffe had her passports returned and on the 16th of March, she was on a plane to England. 

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who campaigned relentlessly for her release, said “I think the government has two jobs: protect people in situations like this, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again…but for today, I’m really glad the way things are.”

Editors note: information correct at time of writing

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