Freed UK-Iranian woman slams British diplomacy that left her jailed for 6 years

In 1st public comments since being released by Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says she was used as ‘pawn’; sister of British-US-Iranian man still in prison also pans UK efforts

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe speaks during a press conference hosted by her local MP Tulip Siddiq, in the Macmillan Room, Portcullis House, following her release from detention in Iran, in London, March 21, 2022. (Victoria Jones/Pool Photo via AP)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe speaks during a press conference hosted by her local MP Tulip Siddiq, in the Macmillan Room, Portcullis House, following her release from detention in Iran, in London, March 21, 2022. (Victoria Jones/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON, United Kingdom — A British-Iranian charity worker held in Tehran for six years called on Monday for all “unjustly detained” prisoners in Iran to be freed, as she spoke publicly for the first time since her return home.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe thanked everyone involved in securing her release but said “the meaning of freedom is never going to be complete (until) such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with our families.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, and retired engineer Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, flew home last week, at the same time as the UK government repaid a longstanding debt to Tehran.

She described herself as “a pawn in the hands of two governments” and had been caught up in a wider dispute that had “nothing to do” with her.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe criticized UK diplomatic efforts over the years to get her out, during which time five foreign ministers promised to secure her release.

“What’s happened now should have happened six years ago… I shouldn’t have been in prison for six years,” she said.

Another British-Iranian, Morad Tahbaz, who also has a US passport, is still being held in Iran, and his daughter Roxanne also spoke at the news conference.

“He should have been on the same flight and it should happen to the other dual nationals,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe said, adding that she understood what he is going through after several false hopes.

Tahbaz’s sister said earlier on Monday that he had gone on hunger strike, accusing the UK government of abandoning him after the two other detainees were released.

“We’ve only just found out before we started this afternoon that he’s been returned to the prison,” Roxanne Tahbaz said.

“Contrary to the public statements that have been made, he’s not being reunited with his family. And he certainly has not been given a furlough, as was part of the deal that was presented to us.”

“From the outset, we were always assured by the (British foreign ministry) that my father would be included in any deal that was made to release all of the hostages,” she said.

“So we’re truly devastated, knowing now that this was not the case.”

‘Pawn on chessboard’

Environmental campaigner Tahbaz, in his 60s, was only released on furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison and was not allowed to leave the country.

After 48 hours he was taken back to prison, reportedly to have an ankle bracelet fitted, but he has not been heard from since.

Morad Tahbaz. (Screengrab/ Facebook)

“We have heard through a relative just now… 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,” his sister Tarane Tahbaz told BBC radio. “He continues to be used as a pawn on a chessboard.”

Tarane Tahbaz said that her brother has cancer and has already lost 40 kilograms (88 pounds) in weight.

She accused the government in London of not communicating with the family and not doing enough to secure Morad’s release.

“The only answer we’ve heard from them since is that it’s because Morad is also an American citizen,” she said.

“Does that make him less important or is that just a way of an excuse or a way to edge away from securing his release? We don’t know… we feel very abandoned.”

The British foreign ministry said in a statement that “Morad has now been moved from Evin prison to a residential location in Tehran.

“We have been in touch with Morad’s family throughout the day and continue to lobby the Iranian authorities at the highest levels to allow him to return home immediately, as the Iranian government committed to doing,” it said.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (left) and Anoosheh Ashoori, who were freed from Iran, gesture after landing at RAF Brize Norton in Brize Norton, England, on March 17, 2022. (Leon Neal/Pool/AFP)

A Tehran court in 2020 jailed Tahbaz for 10 years on charges of spying, conspiring with Washington and damaging national security.

He and seven others convicted on similar charges worked with environmental group Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation to track endangered species and were arrested on suspicion of espionage in early 2018.

Project manager Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the news and data agency, and was arrested in Tehran on a visit to family in 2016, accused of plotting to overthrow the regime.

Ashoori, a retired engineer from southeast London, was arrested in 2017 and jailed for 10 years on charges of spying for Israel.

Dual nationals from Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and the United States have also been arrested in similar circumstances.

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