British aid worker says government should’ve done more to gain her release from Iranian prison

British Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said on Monday she should not have been left detained in Iran for six years and questioned why Britain had failed to get her home before her return last week.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe arrived in Britain from Iran in the early hours on March 17 following six years when she was detained in Tehran and convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.

She returned to Britain after London resolved what it called a parallel issue — repaying a historic 400-million pound debt ($646 million Cdn) for the purchase of military tanks to Tehran that dated back to 1979.

While Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, thanked the British government for getting his wife home, she said she could not agree, describing herself as a “pawn in the hands of two governments.”

“What’s happened now should have happened six years ago,” she told a news conference in the House of Commons in Westminster. “It should have happened exactly six years ago. I shouldn’t have been in prison for six years.”

She inferred that turnover in the British cabinet — there have been five foreign secretaries on her file during the time span — did not help the situation.

Husband ‘super proud of her strength’

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, while trying to return to Britain with her then 22-month-old daughter, Gabriella, from an Iranian trip to see her parents. Her daughter is now eight years old.

Her family and her employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation — a charity that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters — denied the charges.

Richard Ratcliffe engaged in hunger strikes on occasion after her detention to try to raise awareness of her plight.

British Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle poses for a group photograph alongside Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard Ratcliffe, and their daughter Gabriella in London on Monday. (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/Reuters)

“I am super proud of her strength and survival, and of her grace,” he said Monday. “I am so pleased she came home to us.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it was “glorious” to be back home and that she didn’t want to “hold on to a grudge” against her government. She declined to answer reporter questions on the conditions of her imprisonment, saying the timing wasn’t right.

Anoosheh Ashoori, a British Iranian businessman held in Iran since 2017, was also released last week. The breakthroughs came as world leaders try to negotiate the return of both Iran and the U.S. to an international agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program — talks that have been complicated by the prisoner issue. Negotiators have edged closer to a road map for restoring the accord.

“I don’t think anybody’s life should be linked to a global agreement,” said Zaghari-Ratcliffe. “Every human being’s got the right to be free.”

Morad Tahbaz, a British-born environmentalist, remains in an Iranian prison.

“My father was removed from his cell in prison yesterday, but we’ve only just found out, before we started this afternoon, that he’s been returned to the prison,” said his daughter, Roxanne, invited by the Ratcliffes to appear at Monday’s news conference.

She said the family was “desperate to be reunited with him,” imploring Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to secure his release. Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and sentenced alongside others the following year for espionage, accused of “contacts with the U.S. enemy state.”

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