Iran frees Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe but sets further court date

British-Iranian woman held for five years over spying charges has had ankle tag removed

British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since 2016. Photograph: Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Getty Images

British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since 2016. Photograph: Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Getty Images

 

Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest at the end of her five-year prison sentence, but she has been summoned to court again on another charge, her lawyer said on Sunday.

British prime minister Boris Johnson said his government would continue to do everything possible to secure her permanent release so she could return to the UK.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.

Having served out most of her sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison, she was released last March during the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest, but her movements were restricted and she was barred from leaving the country.

On Sunday the authorities removed her ankle tag.

“She was pardoned by Iran’s supreme leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they’re cast off,” her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told an Iranian website. “She has been freed.”

Iran’s judiciary was not immediately available to comment about the release. Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media firm Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.

Mr Kermani said a hearing for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s second case had been scheduled on March 14th.

“In this case, she is accused of propaganda against the Islamic Republic’s system for participating in a rally in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 and giving interview to the BBC Persian TV channel at the same time,” Mr Kermani said.

He said he hoped that “this case will be closed at this stage, considering the previous investigation”.

‘Mixed news’

In a tweet, Mr Johnson said he was “pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable”.

The prime minister added, “She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this”.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe told Sky News on Sunday she was “pleased” her ankle tag had been removed but said the news was “mixed” from Iran due to the court summons. Ratcliffe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Thomson Reuters Foundation chief executive Antonio Zappulla said the foundation was “delighted that her jail term was ended”, and she had told him she was “’ecstatic’ to be able to sit in a cafe and have a coffee”.

“Nazanin must be given her freedom, as was promised,” he said.

British foreign secretary Dominic Raab welcomed the removal of the ankle tag but said Iran continued to put Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family through a “cruel and an intolerable ordeal”.

“We have relayed to the Iranian authorities in the strongest possible terms that her continued confinement is unacceptable,” Mr Raab said in a statement.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer told Iranian state TV he had no news on the status of her travel ban.

The detentions of dozens of dual nationals and foreigners have complicated ties between Tehran and several European countries including Germany, France and Britain, all parties to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers.

The release comes as Iran and the United States are trying to revive the deal, which former US president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, before reimposing sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by scaling down its compliance. – Reutrs