Morad Tahbaz hits out at UK leadership that 'abandoned' him in Iran

British-American citizen freed in this week's prisoner exchange between the US and Iran was left behind last year during Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release

British-American citizen Morad Tahbaz with American Emad Shargi land in the US after a prisoner swap deal with Iran. AP
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A former British hostage of the Iranian regime has hit out at the UK government for “abandoning him,” hours after landing on US soil.

Conservationist Morad Tahbaz, who is also a US national, was freed on Monday after President Joe Biden agreed to release $6 billion of frozen Iranian assets, and exchange prisoners.

Upon landing in the US on Tuesday, Mr Tahbaz thanked Mr Biden and other US officials who helped secure his release: “We will always be especially grateful for the support of the American people,” he said.

But he recalled how he had been excluded from a deal secured by the British government last year, which led to the release of British-Iranian prisoners Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori.

“I would also like to acknowledge the consular staff of the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office who stand apart from the political figures and leadership of the UK Government who abandoned me over a year ago,” he said.

Mr Tahbaz was also due to be released then, but was returned to his cell in Tehran’s Evin prison as the plane was taking off.

Mr Tahbaz’s family said at the time that then-foreign secretary Liz Truss had assured them of their father’s release, but that they were not informed when he'd been left behind. They were then told he was a “US problem”, MPs have also claimed.

Five US prisoners released from Iran in swap

Five US prisoners released from Iran in swap

Yet Mr Tahbaz was born in London and schooled in the UK, not moving to the US until he went to university, his London-based daughter Roxanne Tahbaz pointed out at the time.

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office told The National that it stood by Foreign Secretary James Cleverley's words of Monday in which he said the UK had been "relentless" in its efforts to secure Mr Tahbaz's release and had worked "very closely" with the US.

"I have a huge amount of sympathy for how difficult it is for the families or people who have been held in this way. We have been relentless in our work to secure his release, working very, very closely with the US government on this," Mr Cleverley said.

Mr Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and charged with “corruption on Earth”, alongside eight other conservationists.

One of them, Kavoos Seyed Emami, died in custody a few weeks later. “Ever since, I have been left with a void in my heart,” Mr Tahbaz said, of his colleague.

In his statement, Mr Tahbaz warned of the “suffering” of other hostages and their families, who are still languishing in Iran’s prisons.

“Freedom is a gift that too many of us take for granted. For almost six years, that freedom was taken away from me. Like other hostages, my family and friends suffered greatly,” he said.

He acknowledged the six remaining conservationists arrested alongside him. “I cannot express how much I long to see them free, back in the deserts and mountains,” he said.

Although he and four other Americans were released in the deal this week, there were still American and European hostages in Iran.

“Many other Americans and Europeans continue to suffer and be held against their will. I stand in solidarity with them and their families. It is my sincere hope and I pray that they will soon be able to join me in freedom,” he said.

Mr Tahbaz, who is a cancer survivor, added that his family would need time to recover from the ordeal, and that their lives were changed forever.

“At this time, we are focused on our recovery and spending private time with our family as we adapt to a new normal,” he said.

Updated: September 20, 2023, 3:44 PM