close button
Switch to Iranwire Light?
It looks like you’re having trouble loading the content on this page. Switch to Iranwire Light instead.

Elation and Fear for Nazanin's Family as New Court Date Set in Iran

March 9, 2021
Hannah Somerville
5 min read
Dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her electronic ankle tag removed but faces fresh charges in Iran next weekend
Dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her electronic ankle tag removed but faces fresh charges in Iran next weekend
Husband Richard Ratcliffe says Western governments must be more forceful in encouraging Iran to give up the practice of hostage-taking
Husband Richard Ratcliffe says Western governments must be more forceful in encouraging Iran to give up the practice of hostage-taking

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been granted freedom of movement in Tehran after five years in detention, but is facing a new summons to court next Sunday in the latest political move by the Iranian regime.

The British-Iranian charity worker, 42, was arrested at Tehran airport in March 2016 and jailed on spurious “espionage” charges. The case has drawn international condemnation, spurred by the understanding that the British-Iranian mother-of-on is being held by the Islamic Republic as a hostage.

On Sunday, March 7, Nazanin’s five-year sentence in Iran formally came to an end. She had been transferred from Evin Prison to house arrest in Tehran last March. On Sunday afternoon her electronic ankle tag was removed, allowing her to move about the country freely for the first time in half a decade.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told IranWire that being ability to travel and stay with friends had had a "seismic" impact on his wife. Previously Nazanin had to be accompanied by a chaperone from the Revolutionary Guards whenever she stepped out of the house, even inside the doctor's surgery.

"She is really happy," he said. "She's helping her mum spring clean today; the family suddenly feels normal. There's every chance will be able to visit her relatives for Norooz: that was why she went on holiday to Iran in the first place."

But the elation has been tainted by the prospect of yet another court case. On Sunday afternoon Nazanin's lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, told the Iranian state news outlet IRNA that she had been ordered to appear in court next Sunday - Mother's Day in the United Kingdom - to face additional charges.

The new charge is "propaganda against the regime". Nazanin previously appeared in court on this charge in November 2020, but the case was adjourned. It is not clear whether the Iranian judiciary plans to rely on the same "evidence" presented against her then, such as her work for BBC Media Action, or whether a welter of fresh allegations will be made.

"It's perfectly possible that this is a big, substantive new case," Richard Ratcliffe said, "and what we are seeing is the closing-down of one legal case and the opening of another, and that this is still an open-ended detention. At the same time, it could be more a case of calculated brinkmanship and political signalling, or if it's inconclusive, a warning shot that they're reserving the right to come back with something heftier."

On Monday morning, Mr Ratcliffe held a vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in London to call for his wife's release. He tried to deliver an Amnesty International petition signed by 160,000 supporters calling for his wife's release, but was turned away at the door. "I'm glad we went down," he said. "It reminded me what bastards they are."

He and others have long understood that Nazanin is being held in Iran as a “bargaining chip” over a £450 million debt the UK has owed to Iran since the 1970s for a cancelled arms deal. The debt has not been paid because it was accrued when Iran was under sanctions. 

Mr Ratcliffe believes this was the reason Nazanin was taken "from the very beginning". "It was a long process for the Iranian government to be open about it," he said. "But part of [Iranian foreign minister] Javad Zarif's job has been to make it clear that if there's progress on the debt, there will be progress in Nazanin's case, as part of his role marketing hostage-taking under the cover of diplomatic immunity."

With discussions now ongoing about the US re-joining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Mr Ratcliffe said there is a risk Nazanin's case might become part of "a bigger, more complicated multinational process".

But whether or not this becomes the case, he said, "we need to make it critically clear that hostage-taking is to stop. Until such time as hostage-taking is seen as ineffective by the Iranian leadership, they will continue.

"The practice has become more normalized during the time we have been on hold. If you treat a state like an outlaw, it will operate more and more in ways that are illegal; it's not that the regime currently regards Nazanin's treatment as acceptable, but it regards it as a necessary evil."

Members of the British government including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have been in contact with Nazanin in the past week. On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in a tweet: “Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable. 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."

Despite Iran being to blame for the situation, Mr Ratcliffe said, the British government should be more forceful in how it deals with the Iranian regime over the hostage-taking of dual nationals. The Islamic Republic does not recognize dual-national status internally, allowing it to claim to the international stage that it has only jailed Iranian citizens and therefore cannot be accused of hostage-taking - even as prisoners' "foreign" status is the reason for their detention.

"The Foreign Office are sympathetic," Mr Ratcliffe said, "and they recognize that this is an outrageous, horrible situation. But there's a gap between their helping me and their regarding this as their problem. The abduction of British citizens is a governmental problem. It's a policy issue. Especially where it's over British government debt.

"I don't think they have been tough enough over Iran's hostage-taking, and I don't think they give decision-makers in Iran enough incentive to stop doing it. We didn't have to lose five years of our lives over this."

Related coverage:

Nazanin's Husband: Hostage-Taking by Iran Must End

Nazanin Returned to Parents’ Home as Trial Adjourned

Nazanin’s Husband to Meet Foreign Secretary Amid Fears for her Health

Boris Is Not Responsible For Nazanin's Ordeal. Iran Is!

visit the accountability section

In this section of Iran Wire, you can contact the officials and launch your campaign for various problems

accountability page



Iranian Women Morgue Workers Fight for Their Rights

March 8, 2021
Amir Hossein Miresmaeili
5 min read
Iranian Women Morgue Workers Fight for Their Rights