Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has finally been reunited with her family after being detained in Iran for six years, accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. The British-Iranian national was met by her husband Richard and her seven year-old daughter Gabriella at RAF Brize Norton in the early hours of Thursday morning.
She returned to the UK alongside Annosheh Ashoori, a retired civil engineer. Also a British-Iranian national, he was accused of collecting classified information about Iran’s strategic areas under the pretext of carrying out environmental projects. Both Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr. Ashoori have denied the allegations against them consistently.
Commenting on Nazanin’s return, her sister in law Rebecca Ratcliffe said: “a little girl has finally got her mummy and daddy back”. Numerous members of the family have expressed their excitement at the prospect of being a normal family again.
Why has she been freed now?
Nazanin was first detained in April 2016 by Iranian authorities. Since then there have been repeated attempts to secure her release, which have all failed. So, what has changed?
Fundamentally, Nazanin has always been a bargaining chip for Iran’s judiciary. However, clearly Iranian authorities no longer feel that they need her for leverage in their relations with the UK. One reason for this is the UK paying a historic debt of £400 million which dates back to the 1970s. This was for tanks that the UK sold to Iran but never delivered following the Iranian Revolution.
For years the Foreign Office has claimed that the two issues were not connected, however the timing of the payment of the debt and her subsequent release indicate that, in practice, this was not the case. There has been historic reluctance to pay the debt from the Treasury as well as large parts of the US government, who were of the view that paying the debt in this context would reward what effectively amounted to diplomatic hostage taking.
However, speaking yesterday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss described the debt as “legitimate”, and said that the money would be paid in compliance with sanctions on Iran, and that it would be ring-fenced for humanitarian purposes.