Former prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she should have been returned to the UK six years ago in a stinging rebuke of Iran and the UK — her first public comments since returning to Britain last week.
The charity worker told reporters at the UK's parliament that the “true meaning of freedom is never going to be complete” until Morad Tahbaz, an imprisoned British dual citizen, and other unfairly-held inmates were reunited with their families.
Deflecting questions about her own trials while behind bars, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, called on Tehran to release all prisoners of conscience, religious prisoners and dual nationals. She said there were many inmates who had spent more time than her in jail and whose cases were not well-known.
“What's happened now should have happened six years ago,” she said of her own case. “I’m not going to let the torch be down until they are back home with their families.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and another British dual citizen, Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, a retired engineer, returned to the UK last week after the British government paid off a debt of nearly £400 million ($523m) to the regime in Tehran.
Mr Tahbaz was said to have been the "third man" released from prison under the terms of the agreement but was banned from leaving Iran. His family said on Monday that he was going on hunger strike in protest at his treatment and were “devastated” to learn he had been returned to Tehran's notorious Evin prison.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 and spent four years behind bars before she was released from Evin jail. She spent another two years under effective house arrest, unable to leave the country until the deal between Britain and Iran was concluded.
Sitting alongside her husband, Richard, at the UK Parliament, she spoke of her joy at being reunited with her daughter Gabriella, 7, but was critical of the fact it took five British foreign secretaries to get her out.
She disagreed with her husband when he thanked Foreign Secretary Liz Truss for getting her out and said her experiences left her with little trust in the British government.
“I was told many, many times we’re going to get you home,” she said. “That never happened.”
She said that she would leave the “black hole” in her heart on the plane and would get on with living the rest of her life.
“I'm not going to live for the rest of my life with a grudge over the past six years. It has been cruel, what happened to me,” she said.
“It took a very, very long time for the politicians to sort it out,” she said. “I was the lucky one who got to be recognised internationally given the campaign which was running.”
The breakthrough came as world leaders try to negotiate the return of both Iran and the US to a 2015 deal that limits Tehran's nuclear programme while lifting sanctions.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said the remaining dual citizens in Iran should not be linked to the nuclear talks or the decades-old arms deal debt owed by the UK.
“What really upset me over these years, my life was linked to something that had nothing to do with me,” she said. “It will always haunt me. There is no other way around it. It is never going to leave you.”
Delayed deal to free hostages
The couple were joined by Roxanne Tahbaz, the eldest daughter of Morad, who urged the UK leadership to stand by a promise to bring her father home. Tulip Siddiq, the MP of the Ratcliffes, also called on MPs from the foreign affairs select committee to investigate why it took so long for the debt to be repaid and the prisoners released.
Ms Siddiq said she had asked the chairman of committee, Tom Tugendhat, to look into key areas including the collapse of a potential deal to bring back the dual-nationals last year.
In a tweet, Mr Tugendhat said his committee was discussing “how we should manage hostage taking as a diplomatic tool”.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe pointed out that she returned to the UK on March 17 — exactly six years on from the day that she left the UK with her daughter Gabriella to visit her parents in Tehran. Gabriella, who was seated on the front row of the news conference, was able to make prison visits to see her mother in the first years but returned to the UK to start school in 2019.
A new life back in Britain
Since she returned home last week, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she spoke of her pleasure at braiding and brushing her daughter's hair.
“I shouldn't have been in prison for six years,” said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe who showed few outward signs of the impact of her long ordeal. “I think I think we have we have gone through a lot. It has been a tough journey.”
“Coming back was also very tough... coming back to a daughter who is nearly eight, I left her when she was not even two.”
Reflecting on her return to the UK, she said she was “overwhelmed” when she landed.
“That moment was precious. I’ve been waiting for that moment for such a long time. And I was overwhelmed, specifically to get to know Gabriella and Richard after such a long time.
“It was a very, very emotional moment,” she said.
Richard Ratcliffe, who had campaigned for his wife’s freedom since she was detained in 2016, paid tribute to her during a press conference on Monday after what he said was “a long struggle”.
Mr Ratcliffe thanked everyone for “making us whole again” and said it is “nice to be retiring” from his campaigning.
“It’s been a long struggle. I’m immensely, immensely pleased and proud of my wife, and proud to have her home, proud that we start a new chapter, and get to be a normal family again,” he said.
Mr Ratcliffe said it feels like he has spent six years “conspicuously waiting”, adding: “And here we are. So, thank you to everyone who has been part of bringing Nazanin home and making us whole again.”
He said the journey back to normality will involve “baby steps”, adding: “I am super proud of her strength and her survival and her grace."