British aid worker says government should have done more to secure her release from Iranian prison

British Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said on Monday she should not have been detained in Iran for six years and questioned why Britain did not take her home before she returned last week.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe arrived in Britain from Iran in the early hours of March 17, after six years in detention 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 – the repayment of a historic 400 million pound (C$646 million) debt for the purchase of military tanks from Tehran which dated back to 1979.

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

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

She inferred that turnover in the UK cabinet – there were five foreign secretaries on her file during the period – did not help the situation.

Husband ‘super proud of his strength’

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by Revolutionary Guards at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016, as she attempted to return to Britain with her then 22-month-old daughter Gabriella after a trip to Iran. to see his parents. Her daughter is now eight years old.

His family and employer, the Thomson Reuters Foundation – a charity that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its Reuters news subsidiary – have denied the charges.

Richard Ratcliffe engaged in occasional hunger strikes after his detention in an attempt to raise awareness of his plight.

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

“I’m super proud of her strength and her survival, and her grace,” he said Monday. “I’m so glad she came to our house.”

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

Anoosheh Ashoori, a British Iranian businessman detained in Iran since 2017, was also released last week. The breakthroughs came as world leaders try to broker Iran and the United States back to an international agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program – talks that have been complicated by the issue of prisoners. Negotiators have moved closer to a roadmap to restore the deal.

“I don’t think anyone’s life should be tied to a global deal,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe said. “Every human being has the right to be free.”

Morad Tahbaz, a British-born environmentalist, is being held in an Iranian prison.

“My father was removed from his cell in prison yesterday, but we have only just learned, before starting this afternoon, that he has been sent back to prison,” said his daughter, Roxanne, invited by the Ratcliffes to appear on Monday. press conference.

She said the family were “desperate to find him”, pleading with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to secure his release. Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and convicted with others the following year of espionage, accused of “contact with the enemy US state”.