On April 3, 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard while attempting to return to the UK from Iran with her then 22-month-old daughter. For five years, her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her family have been fighting for her release, and their struggle was spotlighted in a new BBC Panorama investigation. On March 7 it was reported that after serving five years in prison and under house arrest at her parents Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released. However, her family's struggle doesn’t end there and she may face further charges. Here’s what is happening with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe right now.
Who Is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?
Prior to her arrest, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a project manager for the Thomas Reuters Foundation, a charitable arm of the Canadian news conglomerate that worked to "advance media freedom, foster more inclusive economies, and promote human rights." Before this, she worked for the BBC World Service Trust (now known as BBC Media Action), an organisation that aims to "strengthen the capacity of journalists, and others working in media and communication, through training and long-term mentoring."
Why Was She Detained In Iran?
The reasons behind Zaghari-Ratcliffe's arrest were not known at first, but after two months the Iranian authorities accused her of being (per the Guardian) "a ringleader in a revolt against the Islamic republic" and running "a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran."
It is believed that Iranian authorities drew this conclusion because of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's previous employment at the BBC World Service Trust. In June 2014, almost a dozen graduates were arrested because of alleged ties with the BBC, including one person who worked for the BBC World Service Trust.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her family, the BBC World Trust, her current employer, and the UK government strongly denied the charges against her. Her work for the BBC World Service Trust was purely administrative; she helped book Iranian and other students onto courses, and she was in Tehran with her daughter for a family visit only.
The Guardian reported that after serving five years for these charges, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now being accused of being involved in propaganda activities against the Islamic Republic. These are seperate charges from her first arrest. She has now been accused of attending a demonstration in London outside of the Iranian embassy in 2009. The Independent also said that she’s being charged for speaking to BBC Persia which is perceived as spreading dangerous misinformation in Tehran.
How Has She Been Treated In Prison?
Following her first arrest, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was reportedly placed in solitary confinement. Amnesty International states that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was denied access to a lawyer until three days before her trial in September 2016. She was sentenced to a five-year prison term in Tehran's Evin Prison and has since "suffered a serious decline in her physical and mental health" as Amnesty International writes, which is "something her husband Richard has repeatedly drawn attention to during a high-profile campaign on his wife's behalf."
Zaghari-Ratcliffe "has since suffered from mood swings, depression, panic attacks and anxieties about her physical health" as a consequence of her imprisonment, Amnesty reports.
In an open letter written in September 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe described the heartache she was feeling after the decision was made that her daughter should return to the UK to start school. "I have no hope or motivation after my baby goes … There is no measure to my pain," she wrote.
In March 2020, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was granted temporary release due to fears for her safety when the coronavirus crisis hit Iran. She served the last year of her sentence under house arrest at her parent's house.
What Is The UK Government Doing?
In August 2016, then-prime minister Theresa May reportedly "raised concerns" with the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, but to little effect. Since then, the UK government's efforts have continued to fall short of securing Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release.
Boris Johnson has been widely criticised for hindering Zaghari-Ratcliffe's chances at freedom due to a statement he made as foreign secretary in November 2017. Johnson mistakenly said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “simply teaching people journalism” during her time in Tehran, something she, her family, and her employer have always vehemently denied. He later issued an apology and confirmed that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was visiting Iran for a family visit only. Johnson visited Tehran in December 2017, but was unable to secure anything concrete.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband and lawyers have been critical of the government's response to her arrest. In a January 2020 feature for the Guardian, Richard Ratcliffe told the newspaper: "The government’s failure to settle this case is not because they do not care. It is because they do not care enough. There is no lack of sympathy, it is just that sympathy is not going to get us home." A few months earlier, he had written a letter to Johnson which said:
“It remains unclear why you did not keep your word when foreign secretary, or why you briefed the newspapers if you had no intention of acting. Given the events subsequently, it remains unclear why you are yet to act on your promise now with the authority of a PM, or at least to meet and explain. The word of a foreign secretary cannot be easily undone, especially when [you] become PM."
The letter continued: “I told the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] privately that I thought your actions directly led to the imprisonment of other British Iranians, that there are people in prison now who would not be there if you had not made such promises and failed to keep them. Of course, politics is full of placebo promises. But promises made lightly by politicians can still weigh heavy on the shoulders of others."
In March 2019, Johnson's successor Jeremy Hunt announced that Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be given diplomatic protection "making the case a formal, legal dispute between Britain and Iran," the BBC writes. The BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Landale said that, although this new status will not force Iran to do anything, it will allow Britain to more easily raise Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case in international spaces such as the United Nations.
After her reported release in 2021 Johnson wrote on Twitter, “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.” While her husband Richard Ratcliffe told PA News [per the BBC] he was very concerned about the new charges, “I'm a bit more guarded - it feels to me like they have made one blockage just as they have removed another, and we very clearly remain in the middle of this government game of chess.”
What Is Happening With Her Case Now?
On March. 7 2021 Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released. However, it was announced that the Iranian government would bring new charges against her. This was first proposed in Sept. 2020. The UK Foreign Office described the move as "indefensible and unacceptable." The trial was adjourned before Zagahari-Ratcliffe could present her defence.
As she’s served her first sentence, the Guardian reported that she will have her ankle tag taken off, the thing that was keeping her within 300 meters of her parents house. However, Richard Radcliffe told the publication, “the ankle tag is taken off to close down the first case and avert formal steps from the UK, but she is in court again next week for the new one. So she remains leverage for them. She is determined to enjoy her afternoon today and only worry about what next week will bring later.”
The Independent explained that Zaghari-Ratcliffe won’t be able to go home to her family until the new charges brought against her are settled. It’s unlikely that she’ll have her passport given back to her. It was reported that diplomats from the British Embassy in Tehran are believed to be in regular contact with the Iranian authorities.
Contributions from L'Oréal Blackett, Alice Broster, and Sophie McEvoy.
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