The British-Iranian mother was temporarily released from prison in March 2020.
In 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 more than four years, her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her family have been fighting for her release, and their struggle will be spotlighted tonight (August 24) in a new BBC Panorama investigation. But what should you know about the case ahead of watching the Panorama special, and 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 deny 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.
How Has She Been Treated In Prison?
Following her 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.
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:
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.
The upcoming BBC Panorama investigation claims that, in 2017, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on the brink of release before a secret deal collapsed. Richard Ratcliffe told the Panorama team that he had been given a date of December 28, 2017, for his wife’s return to the UK but the arrangement fell through. The investigation claims that Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held as a means to force the UK to settle a £400 million dispute with Iran dating back to 1979, and speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on August 24, her husband said: “It’s completely outrageous to be holding people and using them as collateral."
What Is Happening With Her Case Now?
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was granted temporary release in March 2020 due to fears for her safety when the coronavirus crisis hit Iran. In May, she was told she could remain on release pending the Iranian authorities’ decision on granting her clemency. She is currently living at her parents house, which she has to stay within 300 metres of, and is wearing a prison tag on her ankle. However, there is still no word on whether she’ll be officially released and able to return to the UK.
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