An Iranian judge confirmed on July 21 that Iranian-British prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will not be released until the United Kingdom settles a long-standing debt with Iran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe had requested a meeting with Judge Abbasi, the judge responsible for overseeing parole and early release for prisoners, after judicial officials had told her she would be granted temporary leave from prison in June so she could spend time with her daughter Gabriella on her birthday.
But at the meeting, Abbasi contradicted statements that other judicial officials, including the prosecutor’s office, had made to Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family. Even the Revolutionary Guards who interrogated her had approved her temporary release. She pointed out these inconsistencies, as well as her unfair treatment. She has been in prison since April 2016 and has not been granted a leave of absence, and yet the majority of prisoners held in her ward have been allowed temporary release.
The debt matter refers to Iran’s 1976 purchase of Chieftan tanks from the UK. The shah entered into the arms deal with the UK, and reportedly paid the UK £650 million. Although some of the tanks were delivered, not all of them had arrived in the country at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A debt of £450 million remains, and Iranian authorities have increasingly used Zaghari-Ratcliffe as a bargaining chip to secure its settlement.
The family of Zaghari-Ratcliffe has appealed to the new British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to grant her diplomatic protection. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has asked for a meeting with Hunt, and has written to the Iranian embassy again in the hopes of acquiring a visa to visit Iran once the diplomatic protection has been put in place.
On July 15, Zaghari-Ratcliffe spoke with the UK Ambassador, seeking reassurance that the resignation of Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, would not slow down progress on her case.
According to the Free Nazanin Campaign, the judge told Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe that authorities — she assumes the Revolutionary Guards — are convinced she will try to flee the country if she is granted a period of leave from prison. As a result, he said, she could not be released on humanitarian or any other grounds.
Following the meeting, she told her family on the phone:
“I am gutted. I walk around the ward like a ghost feeling like I cannot go on, I cannot cope with the thought of years more of this. I felt like a dead person ... What they are doing to me is phenomenal. I don’t know why nothing good happens in my case. I just don’t know.”
The following day she was allowed a family visit, during which she said she felt calmer.