In Depth

Will Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe be released?

British mother may be freed in mass amnesty

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is waiting to hear whether she will be set free and allowed to return to Britain after Iran’s supreme leader said he would pardon 10,000 convicts.

The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, said that the pardons, which have so far included some political prisoners, are to mark the Persian new year. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, has been held in the infamous Evin prison in Tehran since 2016 on charges of spying. 

She is awaiting news about whether she will be permanently released at her parents’ house in Tehran. She is currently on temporary release after a mass furlough aimed at stemming the spread of coronavirus in Iran’s prisons.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told The Times: “[Nazinin] and her dad have received a number of excited calls from the lawyers of other political prisoners suggesting that she might well be considered for release.”

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What does this mean for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was found guilty in September 2016 of attempting to stage a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic republic and is now serving a five-year jail term after being convicted of spying - a charge she denies.

She was on holiday in Tehran with her two-year-old daughter in April 2016 when she was arrested by Revolutionary Guards and jailed on espionage charges. 

Attempts by the UK Foreign Office to free her were bungled by Boris Johnson, who was then foreign secretary, after he incorrectly claimed she had been teaching journalists in the country.

In 2017, lawyers for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and the couple’s supporters began arguing that the UK’s non-payment of the debt to Iran could be holding up her release. 

Sky News said in April last year that a debt of £387m is owed to Iran over the aborted sale of Chieftain tanks in the 1970s, and that a long-running row over the accumulated interest on the sum stalled the transaction.

The Independent reported that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was allegedly told by a judge: “The British have accepted to pay the historic debt, but there is still a dispute over calculating the interest rate.”

Two senior UK government sources separately confirmed to The Daily Telegraph in 2017 that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held as “collateral” in a bid to get the money released. 

However, both Downing Street and Tehran are insistent that the two issues are not related. Iran’s foreign ministry stated in 2017: “These are two separate matters… Linking them is wrong.”

The dispute took a dramatic turn in February 2018 after Richard Ratcliffe met Johnson’s team in the Foreign Office to discuss the potential release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe. However, shortly after the meeting, colleagues of Johnson who were present at the meeting briefed The Sun that the money owed would be handed over to Iran - something that was never finalised.

As well as the financial dispute, UK-Iranian relations have been complicated in recent years by the tanker wars in the Strait of Hormuz and the tension that followed the US’s assassination of head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, in January. 

Despite these setbacks, the family are now once again hopeful that Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be released. 

However, The Times notes that “the inclusion of political prisoners in the new year pardon is unusual”, with previous examples only being extended to common law criminals.

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