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Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and why was she imprisoned in Iran?

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British citizen detained in Iran for nearly six years, is finally returning home after Tehran officials returned her passport.

The British-Iranian mother and her fellow detainee, Anoosheh Ashoori, traveled to the capital’s airport on Wednesday morning, according to their lawyer, ending their Middle East detention nightmare.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, tweeted on Tuesday that she was optimistic release was imminent, but that the detainee was still at her family’s home in the Iranian capital, where she has been under house arrest. since March 2020.

“I am very pleased to say that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her British passport returned,” wrote the Labor MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. “I will continue to post updates as she receives them.”

He followed that up on Wednesday with even brighter news: “Nazanin is at Tehran airport and on his way home. I entered politics to make a difference, and right now I feel like I did.”

Iran sentenced Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, project director of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Reuters news agency, to five years in prison in September 2016 after accusing her of “plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime.” , a charge she denies. .

His incarceration has become a cause célèbre since then, with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, tireless in his efforts to pressure the UK government to secure his wife’s release.

Ratcliffe spent 21 days on hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in London last November to draw attention to his current situation.

As the new development is applauded at home, Amnesty International UK Executive Director Sacha Deshmukh has preached caution, responding on behalf of the organisation: “We sincerely hope that these reports are correct. The detainees and their families have been suffering for years, and a resolution cannot come quickly enough.

“It has long been clear that Iranian authorities have been targeting foreign nationals on trumped-up charges related to national security in order to exert diplomatic pressure. In the past we’ve had false dawn after false dawn on potential developments, so it’s right to be cautious at this point.”

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ordeal began after she visited the country in mid-March 2016 to spend time with family members during Nowruz (New Year), only to be stopped on the way home at Imam Khomeini airport on April 3.

His daughter Gabriella, then just 22 months old, was left in the care of her maternal grandparents living in Iran and only returned to the UK to join her father in October 2019.

Iranian authorities accused Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe of teaching “a BBC Persian-language online journalism course that aimed to recruit and train people to spread propaganda against Iran,” according to the country’s attorney general, speaking in Tehran in October 2017.

The allegation relates to his previous work for the BBC World Service Trust, now renamed BBC Media Action, between February 2009 and October 2010, contributing to a course run by various employees of an Iranian technology news website, for who were subsequently jailed.

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, during his hunger strike in central London last year (Aaron Chown/PA)

The BBC denied the charge, saying her imprisonment was based on a false premise anyway, as her role within the organization had been that of a junior administrative assistant.

The Iranian government has never revealed the precise nature of the crimes with which Zaghari-Ratcliffe is accused, although it insists that she has been detained for legitimate reasons.

Ratcliffe quickly went to work campaigning on his behalf from Britain, launching an online petition asking then-Prime Minister Theresa May and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to release him.

“Nazanin is not being held for anything she has personally done. It is deeply misleading of both governments to suggest or even help suggest otherwise,” she said at the time. “We demand a clear statement from the foreign secretary to correct his mistake, in parliament and in Tehran as soon as possible.”

What he got instead was a very unhelpful intervention by then Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who was widely criticized for muddying the waters.

“When I look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, he was just teaching people journalism, as I understand it,” Johnson told a foreign affairs committee on Nov. 1, 2017.

“Neither Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe nor his family have been informed what crime he has actually committed. And that seems to me extraordinary, incredible.”

The careless statement that he was “teaching journalism to the people” reinforced the false position of the Islamic Republic and was roundly criticized by former Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, and led to Johnson’s resignation.

Indeed, he was replaced as Foreign Secretary, only to return to leading the Conservative Party and secure a landslide victory in the December 2019 general election, while Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe languished in Evin prison, taking part in two hunger strikes that same year with his cellmate. protesting the denial of medical care.

Ratcliffe has alleged that his wife’s freedom hinges on the interest rate accruing on a £400 million loan the UK still owes Tehran for a canceled deal for 1,500 Chieftain tanks in the 1970s, a debt the Current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in December it is “legitimate” and one that Britain intends to pay for.

He has also regularly raised concerns about the well-being of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, regularly expressing fears that she may have a nervous breakdown and that she has been tortured behind bars.

In August 2018, she was taken to a prison clinic after suffering a panic attack just days after being temporarily released to see her family.

It reportedly suffered another in January 2020 in response to the tense situation in Iran following the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in a US airstrike.

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