Iran releases British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Release cames after Britain repays £400m debt to Iran owed for more than 40 years

British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on her way back to Britain on Wednesday following her release after six years of detention in Tehran. Her release, along with that of fellow dual-national Anoosheh Ashoori after five years in prison, came after Britain repaid a £400 million debt to Iran owed for more than 40 years.

Foreign secretary Liz Truss said the money, which Britain owed after it failed to deliver 1,500 Chieftain tanks ordered before the 1979 revolution, could only be spent on humanitarian aid.

“We have found a way to make the payment in full while respecting international sanctions,” she said.

“We have paid £393.8 million, which will only be used for humanitarian purposes. The terms between the two sides are confidential.”


Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 as she tried to board a flight back to Britain with her 22-month old daughter

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard thanked the government and its ministers, some of whom he had clashed with as he campaigned for his wife’s release.

“Homecoming is a journey, not an arrival,” he said.

“I don’t think it will just be today, there will be a whole process, and hopefully we’ll look back in years to come and just be a normal family and this will be a chapter in our lives, but there are many more chapters to come.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 as she tried to board a flight back to Britain with her 22-month old daughter after visiting her family in Iran. She was convicted of trying to overthrow the Iranian government and later sentenced to 10 years in prison for spying.

Parliamentary committee

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family and employers always insisted she travelled to Iran in a personal capacity and was not engaged in any work of any kind. But British prime minister Boris Johnson told a parliamentary committee in 2017, when he was foreign secretary, that she had been teaching journalism during her visit.

Mr Johnson said later he had misspoken and apologised but Iran used his words to bring Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe back to court on further charges.

“We must always realise that, sadly, the regime in Tehran is capable of holding people in this way. I think that people do need to recognise that. I am glad that after a great deal of UK diplomacy we have been able to get her out, get her back to her family,” he said on Wednesday.

Subsequent foreign secretaries failed to secure her release, partly because of complications in repaying the debt without breaching the sanctions against Iran.

Mr Ratcliffe said he hoped once his wife returned, they will be able to live a normal family life. “There is a recovery process – you can’t get back the time that is gone, that’s a fact. But we live in the future and not the past, so we’ll take it one day at a time,” he said.

“I’m not sure it was all worthwhile. I think it is going to be the beginning of a new life, a normal life, and hopefully a happy family. And there will be bumps, no doubt, and all the normal squabbles we had before but, yeah, I think we’re really looking forward to seeing her.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times