Morad Tahbaz back in prison after failed release deal

The environmentalist was excluded from deal to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Morad Tahbaz was allowed to leave Evin prison last week after the UK and Iran struck a deal. Two days later, he was taken back there. Photo: @USEnvoyIran/Twitter
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Morad Tahbaz, a British-Iranian-American who is detained in Iran, has been returned to Evin prison, his daughter said on Monday as the family issued new pleas for him to join the dual citizens recently released from Tehran.

Roxanne Tahbaz said the deal negotiated between the UK government and Iran to allow her father a furlough from jail appeared to have collapsed.

“My father was removed from his cell in prison yesterday and we found out before we started this morning that he has been returned to the prison,” she told reporters at a press briefing in London. “Contrary to statements that have been made he has not been reunited with his family and he certainly has not been given a furlough as was part of the deal that was presented to us.”

Mr Tahbaz, 66, a London-born conservationist, is now on hunger strike in protest at his treatment.

Roxanne Tahbaz, the eldest daughter of Morad Tahbaz, said her family are devastated that the dual national was not released by Iran under the deal it struck with the UK. PA

He was released last Wednesday to his Tehran home to be reunited with his wife, who is subject to an Iranian travel ban.

Just two days later the wildlife conservationist was taken to Evin prison. Iran told the Foreign Office that he was being sent back to the institution to have an ankle tag fitted. It is not clear whether the device had been fitted.

It had been thought he had been released to a hotel on Sunday, but his daughter said that was not the case.

Ms Tahbaz said she and her relatives are dismayed that her father was “abandoned and left behind” by the British government. “My siblings and I are desperate to be reunited with our parents,” she said.

She said from the outset her family had been assured by the Foreign Office that Mr Tahbaz would be included in “any deal that was made to release all of the hostages”.

“So we are truly devastated knowing now that this was not the case,” she added. She said her family last week learned through the media that their loved one had been side-lined from the pact.

Fighting back tears, she made a direct plea to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate the release of her father.

“To Prime Minister Johnson and Foreign Secretary Truss, we beg you to please stand by your word and bring back both my parents, my father and my mother.”

She was speaking at a press conference alongside Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, one of two dual citizens released by Iran last week.

The Conservative-led government paid almost £400 million ($527m) to the sanctioned regime — a sum that dated to the 1970s and had caused tensions between the countries for decades.

Under the deal, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were flown from Tehran to Britain via Oman, following years of detention. The agreement also stipulated that Mr Tahbaz, who has cancer, would be released on furlough from Evin Prison. Family members had hoped that Mr Tahbaz would be freed and allowed to leave Iran under the deal.

Ms Tahbaz said she and her family were under the impression that he “would be on indefinite furlough” but, given recent developments, that appeared not to be the case.

She urged British ministers to address the plight of her parents and “bring them back home” adding: “They've been gone a very long time.”

Earlier, Tahrane Tahbaz, the detainee's sister, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the family felt “abandoned” by the British government.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe used her first media briefing since being released to declare her support for all those who are unjustly detained in Iran, and call for them to be reunited with their families.

“To begin with Morad, but also the other dual nationals, members of religious groups, or prisoners of conscience,” she said at a press briefing in London. “We do realise that if I have been in prison for six years there are so many other people we don’t know their names who have been suffering in prison in Iran.”

Downing Street has said the government is continuing to lobby the Iranian authorities for the return of Mr Tahbaz.

The prime minister's official spokesman said the UK was working very closely with the US on the issue.

“He is a tri-national. We are working very closely with the United States to secure his permanent release and departure from Iran”, Mr Johnson's official spokesman said.

“We have been in regular contact with Morad’s family and continue to lobby the Iranian authorities at the highest level.”

Tahrane Tahbaz, sister of detained environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, holds on her brother's books, pictured at her home in Madrid. Reuters

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori were greeted by their families and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss upon landing at an RAF base in England on Thursday.

Tulip Siddiq, the mother of one's MP in London, said she had spoken to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard hours after their reunion and they had raised Mr Tahbaz's plight.

The detainee's sister said her brother's temporary release from jail last week “seemed more like a visit than furlough".

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said the family had not had contact with Mr Tahbaz since he was taken back to jail.

“We have heard through a relative just now, just a few hours ago, that he’s been taken from the prison and he’s been taken to an undisclosed location and that he’s gone on hunger strike,” she said.

She said she could understand why her brother has resorted to such drastic action because he is being “used as a pawn on a chessboard”.

“It’s very distressing,” she said. “We’re agonised and we’re absolutely distraught and we don’t know what the next moves are.”

Ms Tahbaz said the British government kept her family in the dark on negotiations with Iran, and that Ms Truss “only got half the job done”.

“For four years we were led to believe that he would be part of the deal when it was made and that’s what we were told,” Ms Tahbaz said. “The deal was made, the money was paid and he wasn’t part of the deal and he’s still there, and we’re very worried.”

“We feel very abandoned, and his condition remains dire. We just don’t know how long this is going to take,” she said, fearing her brother’s case will be “swept under the rug”.

Mr Tahbaz’s lawyer in Tehran said that two days after he was released and went to his family’s home in the city, Iranian security forces forced him to return to Evin Prison.

Mr Tahbaz was arrested during a campaign against environmental activists in January 2018.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison along with his colleagues on charges of spying for the US and undermining Iran’s security.

Mr Tahbaz is a member of the board of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, an organisation which seeks to protect endangered species.

A US State Department spokesman said officials would “continue to work night and day to secure the release of our wrongfully detained citizens”, including Mr Tahbaz.

“Simply put: Iran is unjustly detaining innocent Americans and others and should release them immediately,” the spokesman said.

Updated: March 21, 2022, 3:49 PM