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Montevideo, March 28th 2023 - 17:38 UTC



British-Iranian nationals back in UK after long years in jail

Thursday, March 17th 2022 - 09:51 UTC
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The British government aircraft landed early Thursday at RAF Brize Norton base The British government aircraft landed early Thursday at RAF Brize Norton base

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who hold dual British and Iranian citizenship, have arrived back in the United Kingdon in the early hours of Thursday local time after being imprisoned in their native country for several years.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been accused of conspiracy to overthrow the Iranian government in 2016 and Ashoori was arrested in 2017 on espionage charges. The Thomson Reuters Foundation employee and the retired civil engineer were released on Wednesday after the British government settled a decades-long £398 million debt to Iran. Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin's husband, had campaigned relentlessly for his wife's release, even going so far as to be on hunger strike. He had always maintained Nazanin was held hostage due to a debt owed by Britain to Iran.

The British government aircraft landed early Thursday at RAF Brize Norton base, after which the newly-released passengers were able to hug their children and families. A video shared on social media showed the emotional homecoming as Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugged and kissed her young daughter and Mr. Ashoori’s family sobbed.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s seven-year-old daughter Gabriella was heard asking “is that mummy?” and again shouted “mummy” as her mother walked down the plane’s stairs.

Ashoori was then reunited with his family, who were in tears as they embraced. Zaghari-Ratcliffe asked “do I smell nice?” before holding her daughter's hands. She also hugged members of the Ashoori family.

She had been arrested in Iran in 2016 and detained for six years after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government. Ashoori, who was arrested in 2017, was reportedly subjected to torture during his detention.

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq tweeted an image of Zaghari-Ratcliffe embracing her husband and daughter with the caption: “This picture makes me so happy and so proud of all 3 of my brave constituents. Thank you everyone for your constant support for this incredible family. #NazaninIsFree”

Sharing photographs from the flight on Twitter, Stephanie Al-Qaq, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign Office, said there was “relief and joy” as the British-Iranians and officials left Tehran.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was “delighted” that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were home. “I think it’s been a really difficult 48 hours, the expectation that they would be released, but we weren’t sure right until the last moment.“

“It’s been very emotional, but also a really happy moment for the families, and I’m pleased to say that both Nazanin and Anoosheh are in good spirits and they’re safe and well back here in Britain,” Truss went on at the RAF base.

A third British-Iranian national, Morad Tahbaz, a wildlife conservationist, has also been freed by Iranian authorities, Truss confirmed, but he is still unable to leave Iran.

Truss told the House of Commons Wednesday that the money paid to Iran stemmed from funds restricted to humanitarian purposes only, which is in accordance with UK and international sanctions.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori first flew from Tehran to Oman, where they were greeted by officials as they got off the plane, before they headed home to the UK. Oman has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure their freedom, it was reported.

Oman's foreign minister, Badr Albusaidi, had said they had arrived ”safely“ and shared an image of the pair as he thanked Tehran and London for their ”hard work and good faith“ in getting them home.

Ashoori’s daughter Elika, 35, said ”the hardest part would be when he tried to take his own life.“

“He wanted to remove himself from the equation, in part because they were threatening us, our safety. They were telling him they were monitoring our movement,” she explained. “Him trying to take his own life was, in a sense, a way to protect us. I think that’s as dark as this story got.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, was arrested in April 2016 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport following a holiday visit to her family in Iran, and was sentenced to five years in prison, after being found guilty of “plotting to topple the Iranian government” - something she has always denied. As her sentence was due to end she was sentenced to another year in jail in April 2021. Her lawyer said she received the second jail sentence on a charge of spreading “propaganda against the system” for participating in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009.

Ashoori, now 68, a retired civil engineer, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran. Despite living in the UK for 20 years, he was convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad and sentenced to prison for 10 years. During his time in detention, he was subjected to torture and an assortment of inhumane experiences, according to Amnesty International UK.


Categories: International.

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