Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe celebrates first day of freedom with family selfie

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori landed in the UK early on Thursday morning

A “family selfie” of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella, 7, was posted by the family’s MP Tulip Siddiq.

In text accompanying the tweeted picture of the three surrounded by daffodils, the Hampstead and Kilburn MP wrote: “So lovely to have uplifting conversations with Richard and Nazanin today.

“They are both relentless in their pursuit of justice and raised the plight of Morad Tahbaz with me. Here I was hoping to sleep for a week …

“Here’s their first family selfie! #NazaninIsFree.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrive back in the UK

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori landed at the UK's RAF Brize Norton airbase in the early hours of Thursday on a flight from Oman after being held in Iran for more than five years each.

The British-Iranian dual citizens were released on Wednesday from Iran where they had been held for several years after the UK paid a debt of almost £400 million ($523m) to the regime in Tehran.

They beamed broadly after touching down on British soil and hugged relatives after entering the terminal building.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe spoke with Mr Ashoori as they walked across the tarmac, away from the government-chartered Boeing 757.

She was wearing a navy dress and coat, with a bright yellow shawl and matching handbag while Mr Ashoori, who was held for about five years, made a peace sign to reporters as the pair walked side by side from the runway to an airport reception building.

On Thursday, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly posted a photo of the reunited families on Twitter and praised the detainees’ relatives for showing “love and dedication”.

“So great to see Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori back home with their families,” the MP tweeted. “Such love and dedication. Yesterday was a good day at work.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella after landing at RAF Brize Norton. EPA

Mr Cleverly told Sky News that although dealing with Iranian government officials had been “incredibly difficult” the change of power in 2021 had “definitely helped”.

“Because of the huge number of sanctions, quite rightly applied to Iran, all these things become very, very tricky, very, very difficult. But ultimately we never gave up, we continued working, we continued supporting the families.”

He expressed his “admiration” for the families of dual citizens detained in Iran.

Family reunited

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born and raised in Tehran and studied English literature before working as a translator in the relief effort for the Japanese International Co-operation Agency in 2003.+

She moved to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies before moving to the World Health Organisation as a communications officer.

She came to the UK in 2007 after securing a scholarship at London Metropolitan University to study a master's in communication management and met her future husband through mutual friends a month later.

The couple were married in August 2009 in Winchester and their daughter was born in June 2014.

She was held in her native country a year later.+

Families reunited after years apart

A welcome party including Foreign Secretary Liz Truss waited for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori as the pair disembarked.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugged Gabriella inside the reception building and carryied the little girl in her arms as they were surrounded by members of both families.

Gabriella was heard asking, “Is that mummy?” in a video shared on Instagram by Mr Ashoori’s daughter, Elika, and Gabriella called out to her mother as Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe walked down from the plane.

Later in the video, Mr Ratcliffe shook Mr Ashoori’s hand as he was reunited with his family, who were in tears.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe also embraced members of the Ashoori family.

Ms Truss said on Twitter: “Delighted that Nazanin and Anoosheh have landed safely in the UK and are reunited with their families and loved ones. Welcome home.”

Dual citizen Morad Tahbaz remains in Iran

A third dual citizen, Morad Tahbaz, was released from prison in Iran on furlough and Ms Truss said diplomatic efforts aimed at securing his full release would continue.

She said the government would “continue to work intensively” for the freedom of Mr Tahbaz, who although released from prison remains under effective house arrest.

The foreign secretary tweeted: “Pleased Morad Tahbaz has been released on furlough and is reunited with his family in Iran, but this is far from sufficient.

“We will continue to work intensively to secure his departure from Iran.”

“People are in very, very good spirits,” Ms Truss said. “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.”

Asked whether Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori had thanked her following their return, Ms Truss said: “Well, I thank them and I thank the families for how stoical they’ve been during this really, really difficult period.

“And we talked about the process that we’ve been through, the difficult last part of making sure that they were able to leave Iran but it’s so fantastic to welcome them back safe and well here in Britain.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori gesture after landing at RAF Brize Norton military airbase in Britain. Reuters

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori fly to Oman

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 44, and Mr Ashoori, 67, were taken to an airport in Tehran on Wednesday morning to be flown home via Oman.

Oman's Foreign Minister, Sayyid Badr Al Busaidi, said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ansoori were extremely happy on their arrival and looking forward to joining their families soon.

He highlighted the productive negotiations that took place to secure their release from Iran and said his country’s “humanitarian purpose and commitment has been at the heart of all of our endeavours”.

“It takes trust at the end of the day to achieve progress. I think that it is trust and strong will by all parties in good faith that has produced this outcome," Sayyid Badr said.

“We are delighted to be able to bring all parties to the table to agree a deal and deliver on it to the letter and the spirit of the deal.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been detained on security charges for six years by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard after a holiday to Iran during which she introduced her daughter to her parents.

Mr Ashoori had been in prison for almost five years while Mr Tahbaz has been held for four.

Richard Ratcliffe 'grateful' for wife's release

Mr Ratcliffe, who has fought a tenacious battle to secure her release, said he was “deeply grateful” and that he and Gabriella were “looking forward to a new life”.

He said that developments in the past few days had been “very up and down” but that the real moment of hope came when his wife's passport was returned on Sunday.

Even then, her family were not sure if the move was part of a “game of incremental cat and mouse".

He said his wife's release means “we can start being a normal family again”.

On Tuesday night, he said Gabriella had asked if her mother was “really coming back tomorrow” and he said he didn't know for sure but can now say “pretty surely she's coming home".

Mr Ratcliffe said that while it was a “happy sunny day”, there would be “plenty of challenges ahead” when the family of three are reunited after six years.

He said he was looking forward to spending “a couple of days [of] peace and quiet somewhere else” on their reunion before returning home to north London.

“The first thing she always wanted to do was [to have] me make a cup of tea.”

He joked the family home “needs a bit of tidying” before his wife makes her return.

Ashoori unsure of his return after prison release

Mr Ashoori was released from prison on Tuesday and taken under guard to his mother's house in Tehran but he still did not know if he would return to the UK.

Mr Ashoori's daughter Elika tweeted a photo of the two reunited families at Brize Norton with the caption: “Happiness in one pic.”

Iran denies debt repayment linked to release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori

Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian as saying that the debt had been paid, but he denied any links between the transfer of the cash and the release of the two British-Iranian prisoners.

British prime minister Boris Johnson, who is on a trip to the UAE, put out a tweet earlier in the day to confirm news of the detainees' release.

“I am very pleased to confirm that the unfair detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori in Iran has ended today, and they will now return to the UK,” the prime minister wrote.

“The UK has worked intensively to secure their release and I am delighted they will be reunited with their families and loved ones.”

There had been signs of progress in delicate negotiations between the UK and Iran in recent days.

Ms Siddiq said on Tuesday that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been handed back her British passport.

Ms Siddiq tweeted on Wednesday that she was “hoping and praying for some more positive news soon".

She later followed it up with a message confirming the release and a selfie taken by Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe on board a plane, saying: “Nazanin is now in the air flying away from six years of hell in Iran.”

Ms Siddiq earlier told Sky News that at the time of interviewing, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe remained under the control of Iranian authorities but could “smell freedom but was still to grasp it".

She said Ms Truss was the only foreign secretary in office since 2016 who “actually did something” about negotiating Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release and paying the debt Britain owes to Iran.

Mariam Claren, whose German-Iranian mother Nahid Taghavi remains in Tehran’s Evin jail, said the apparent release of the two Britons was a “bittersweet” moment for the families of those left behind.

“I’m so happy for Richard [Ratcliffe], Sherry [Mr Ashoori's wife] and Elika [his daughter], but there are others left behind,” she said.

Six years of detention

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's ordeal began in April 2016 when she was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini Airport after a holiday to her country of birth. She had been visiting her parents in the capital to introduce them to her daughter, Gabriella.

Authorities accused her of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government, which she repeatedly denied.

The little girl lived with her grandparents for three years while her mother, an aid worker, was detained in Evin prison before returning to London to live with her father in October 2019.

Solitary confinement for British-Iranian engineer

Mr Ashoori, a retired civil engineer, was arrested in 2017 during a visit to Tehran and had been living in the UK for 20 years when he returned to his homeland to see his mother.

Authorities accused him of spying for Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy, and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, plus an extra two for “illicitly acquiring money".

His family have said that during his detention, Mr Ashoori had been kept in solitary confinement and subjected to coercive and abusive interrogations without a lawyer present. Relatives said officials made threats towards his family and forced him to give a confession.

'Mummy might be coming home'

Ms Siddiq said she had spoken to Mr Ratcliffe who said Gabriella was excited about the prospect of being reunited with her mother, two and a half years after she last saw her in Iran.

He explained how his wife was under the control of the Iranian authorities when she arrived at the airport on Wednesday morning.

Ms Siddiq earlier told Sky News: “As you can imagine, Richard is very emotional … There’s been so many false dawns.

“There’s so many times where we’ve heard, 'Prepare for Nazanin to be home next week, or get prepared, she is coming imminently'. Well none of that happened. But we haven’t at any point had her at the airport with her British passport in her hand.

Richard Ratcliffe, with his daughter Gabriella, outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday, after his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was freed from detention. PA

“I am feeling very emotional as well thinking about the fact that Nazanin might be coming home. But I think with Richard, he wants to be cautious because he doesn’t want to be let down again after campaigning for his wife, going on hunger strike, constantly lobbying.”

She said Mr Ratcliffe had informed Gabriella of the developments but had been “trying to manage her expectations just in case mummy doesn’t come home”.

“All I can hear from Gabriella is plans about Peppa Pig Land and Legoland, and which amusement park she’s going to,” Ms Siddiq said.

“She’s a 7-year-old girl, that’s how she thinks, so she’s just about how she’s going to show mummy her new school, how she’s going to take her to their assembly.

"It’s all those things that were missed, the anniversaries, the birthdays, the special occasions, the Christmases, I think they’re just going to have to make up for all of that.”

Updated: March 18, 2022, 5:32 AM
Family reunited

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born and raised in Tehran and studied English literature before working as a translator in the relief effort for the Japanese International Co-operation Agency in 2003.+

She moved to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies before moving to the World Health Organisation as a communications officer.

She came to the UK in 2007 after securing a scholarship at London Metropolitan University to study a master's in communication management and met her future husband through mutual friends a month later.

The couple were married in August 2009 in Winchester and their daughter was born in June 2014.

She was held in her native country a year later.+

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