Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has UK passport returned, MP says

By Doug Faulkner
BBC News

  • Published
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in March 2021.Image source, FAMILY HANDOUT
Image caption,
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after she was released from house arrest in Tehran in March 2021

British-Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her UK passport returned, her MP has said.

She has been detained in Iran for nearly six years after being arrested while visiting her family. She was accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, which she denied.

Tulip Siddiq said Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was still at her family home in Tehran, where she is under house arrest.

Boris Johnson said negotiations were "going right up to the wire".

Ms Siddiq, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, said she understood British negotiators were in the Iranian capital.

She met Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard for "yet another strategy meeting" on Tuesday - saying she hoped there would not be many more.

Mr Johnson said during a visit to Abu Dhabi that talks with Iran over Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release were "moving forward".

He said he would not comment further "because those negotiations continue to be under way and we're going right up to the wire".

The prime minister also said negotiations for the release of dual nationals in Tehran had been going on "for a long time".

According to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's employer the Thomson Reuters Foundation, her lawyer Hojjat Kermani has said he is "hopeful that we will have good news soon".

A £400m debt relating to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s had been linked to the continued detention of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other UK-Iranian dual nationals held in the country - although the government has said the two issues should not be linked.

Downing Street said it was committed to paying the debt and was "exploring options to resolve it", but said it had not been resolved.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it continued to "explore options" to resolve the debt but would not comment further as discussions were ongoing.

He added the Foreign Office would not comment on speculation about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe but had long called for the release of "unfairly detained British nationals in Iran".

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt - who has campaigned for her release - said it was traditional for clemency to be shown to some prisoners to coincide with Persian New Year, Nowruz.

This year's festival falls this Sunday so Mr Hunt said it could be "a very, very critical next few days".

Media caption,

Ros Atkins looks at the story behind Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention in Iran - and her husband's campaign to free her

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, who has always denied the charges against her, was first jailed for five years in 2016 after being accused of plotting against the regime - spending the last year of her sentence under house arrest at her parents' home.

After that sentence expired she was then sentenced to another year's confinement in April 2021 on charges of "spreading propaganda", which has been served at her parents' house in Tehran.

Her husband Richard Ratcliffe, who lives with their daughter Gabriella in Hampstead, London, has campaigned for her release, including by going on hunger strike in October last year.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 5 live there had been "so many false hopes" over the last five or six years so it was hard to tell "if this is a really positive sign or just the Iranian government playing games again".

She said her sister-in-law was on edge when things like this happened because she did not want to get her hopes up.

"We have everything crossed, but remain sceptical," she said.

Her mother-in-law, Barbara Ratcliffe, told the BBC Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe "seemed really quite upbeat when I last spoke to her", but added that the family was "all a bit battle-scarred", having had disappointments in the past.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK's chief executive, warned the latest reports should be treated with caution as there had been "false dawn after false dawn" in the long-running process.

And Rupert Skilbeck, director of the Redress human rights organisation, echoed such sentiments.

"We remain cautious and continue to encourage the UK government to do the right thing and ensure the debt it owes to Iran is paid, and that it does everything in its power to secure Nazanin's release," he said.

There are other Western passport holders detained by Iran including Anoosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer from London, who was convicted of spying for Israel's Mossad intelligence agency in 2019.

For more on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's story you can listen to Radio 4's Nazanin series on BBC Sounds.