After a long and arduous winter, she brought the sun back to London. On Monday, at the start of spring in the UK and the Persian calendar year 1401, the charity worker, mother-of-one and ex-hostage of Iran Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe gave her first press conference as a free woman together with husband Richard and daughter Gabriella.
Though the family had not yet appeared in public since the six-year ordeal ended last Thursday, the family also invited Roxanne Tahbaz, the daughter of the still-jailed, British-born conservationist Morad Tahbaz, to join them on the panel in Westminster.
Both Nazanin and her husband spoke of their joy at being back together, and the long period of re-adjustment that lay ahead. They thanked a vast number of different people – from friends and campaigners to staff at the foreign office to Nazanin’s Iranian lawyer – for aiding in the fight to secure her release. Nazanin also spoke of her family in Iran, who for their own safety had not been able to intervene publicly: “Justice in Iran doesn’t have any meaning.”
“Freedom is never going to be complete until such time as all of us who were unjustly detained in Iran are released,” she said. “Morad, but also the other dual nationals, members of religious groups, or prisoners of conscience. I’ve been in prison for six years; in that time there are so many others, and we don’t know their names, who have been suffering.”
Asked by IranWire who she had come to know well in prison, Nazanin mentioned the names of Sepideh Gholian, environmentalists Niloufar Bayani, Sam Rajabi and Houman Jokar, and Siamak Namazi. Information about those being held on the men’s ward of Evin Prison, she said, often reached them via visitors. “At the moment I’m with them in spirit,” she said, “but I’m not going to let the torch be put back down until they are home with their families.”
Though her husband was more circumspect, Nazanin was firm in criticizing the British government for taking so long to get just two of the detained British citizens released. “I have seen five Foreign Secretaries over the course of six years,” she said. “That’s unprecedented. I was told many times ‘You’re going to come home’; that never happened. How many Foreign Secretaries does it take? What happened now should have happened six years ago. I shouldn’t have been in prison for six years.”
The couple have not yet returned home to north London but said they were looking forward to beginning a new life together, and Nazanin to getting to know her now seven-year-old daughter, who returned to the UK in 2019. “You’ve heard from me plenty these last six years,” Richard Ratcliffe told reporters, “and it’s nice to be retiring.
“It has been a long struggle. I’m proud to have a home, proud that we’ve started a new chapter and get to be a normal family again.”
The talk also underscored the plight of countless others still arbitrarily detained in Iran, including at least three other British nationals. The family of Morad Tahbaz, co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, who also holds American nationality and was arrested in January 2018, learned through the media last week that he would ostensibly be granted furlough – only to discover less than 48 hours later that he was back in Evin Prison. His wife is also still subject to a travel ban.
Their children, Roxanne Tahbaz said, had been assured their father would be included in any release of hostages in connection with the repayment of Britain’s £400m debt to Iran. “It has been four years,” Roxanne Tahbaz said. “I’m here today to ask the question of why my father was left behind. Contrary to the public statements that have been made, he has not been reunited with his family and he has not been given a furlough.” Addressing Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, she added: “I beg you to stand by your word.”