Zaghari-Ratcliffe says London and Tehran treated her as ‘political pawn’

British-Iranian citizen criticises UK government for not paying debt to release her sooner

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has criticised the British government and successive foreign secretaries for waiting six years to pay a decades-old £400 million (€477 million) debt to Iran that secured her release this week. The aid worker, who is a dual British-Iranian citizen, said London and Tehran had treated her as a political pawn.

“I was told early on that there is something they want off the Brits, and they’re not going to let me go until such time as they get that. I didn’t know the details at the time,” she told a press conference at Westminster.

“Week two or week three that I was arrested, they told me ‘we want something off the Brits, we will not let it go until such time as we get it’.”

Iran had been pressing the British government to repay a debt of almost £400 million due to London’s failure to deliver 1500 Chieftain tanks ordered before the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and another dual British-Iranian citizen, Anoosheh Ashoori, were released this week after Britain finally paid the debt.

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“I mean, how many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? Five?” said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“What’s happened now should have happened six years ago.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson was accused of making her situation worse when as foreign secretary he mistakenly told a parliamentary committee that she had been training journalists in Iran when she was arrested. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has always maintained that she was on holiday visiting members of her family when she was arrested as she tried to board a flight back to London with her daughter Gabriella, who was 22 months old at the time.

“The government, including the prime minister, was committed to securing Nazanin’s release as soon as possible. It was always entirely in Iran’s gift to release detained dual nationals,” Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said.

“All the foreign secretaries who have taken on this role have worked hard with officials to secure the release. It has been extremely complicated, it has been very difficult work.”

Tireless campaign

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was joined at the press conference by her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter, who is now seven. She thanked her husband for what she called his tireless campaign on her behalf, which included going on hunger strike and she praised Gabriella for her patience.

“I always felt like I was holding this black hole in my heart all these years, but I’m just going to leave that black hole in my heart, I’m going to leave that black hole on the plane when the plane leaves. I’m not going to live for the rest of my life with a grudge over the past six years. It has been cruel, what happened to me, but I think... this moment is so glorious for me. And it’s kind of early days, so I think it’s a bit early to hold on to that grudge,” she said.

“I was the lucky one who got to be recognised internationally given the campaign which was running, but there are so many other people in prison. You don’t know their names and they have been in prison for [more] years than I have been.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is London Editor of The Irish Times