Great Britain

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention ‘blot on British diplomacy’, says husband ahead of scheduled release

The five-year-long detainment of a British mother in Iran is a "blot on British diplomacy", her husband has said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is a British-Iranian dual national, has been detained in Tehran since 2016 when she was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations, which she denies, of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

That sentence is scheduled to end this weekend.

Her husband Richard has said he has spent the last five years "swinging between hope and despair" as his wife remained in Iran.

He told the PA news agency: "It is shocking that what started off as a mum and a baby on holiday could be allowed to last for five years.

"There’s no ambiguity in that, that’s just staggering. It is a blot on British diplomacy and clearly Iranian hostage-taking is outrageous."

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, has been out of prison since last spring due to the coronavirus crisis, but has been under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran.

Prior to her arrest, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe lived in London with her husband and worked as a project manager for the charity Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling with her young daughter, Gabriella, to celebrate the country’s new year and to visit her parents in 2016.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held in solitary confinement in an unknown location in Kerman Province, 1,000km south of Tehran.

Gabriella is now of school age and is "counting down" the days until her mother comes home, her father said. Mr Ratcliffe said: "She’s got a calendar that she crosses off each day.

"She’s in that sense counting down and I think probably still at this point treating it like an advent calendar, so the days will come off and then the magic delivery will happen.

"In terms of her wider understanding, for a long time she’s been asking, ‘When’s mummy coming back, when’s mummy coming back’.

"Hopefully this won’t be tough for her psychologically if mummy doesn’t come back at the end of all those days on the calendar.

"She’s had a lot of experience of grown-ups promising her that mummy’s coming home and then mummy not coming home."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s original sentence is due to end on 7 March, but she appeared in court last November on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime.

Speaking at the time, Mr Ratcliffe called the charges "spurious", saying the case presented the same evidence used when she was convicted in 2016.

He said he wanted to know what the UK government’s plan is for getting his wife back to the UK.

"If she comes home on the day, I don’t need to know what you’re doing, thank you very much, and I’m sorry for all of the rude things I’ve said in the media, and I’ll come out and say thank you very much and be very gracious,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

"But if she doesn’t come home, I want to know what you’re going to do on 8 March.

"Do I have confidence that the government is going to get her home on March 7? No, I’m standing here worried."

A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: "The foreign secretary and FCDO remain in close contact with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, and continue to provide our support.

"We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage. The regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals.

"We continue to do everything we can to secure the release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals so that they can be reunited with their loved ones."

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said the government was “pushing as hard as we can” to free her, and negotiations between the two sides had “intensified” recently.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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