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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe released from prison in Iran

The British-Iranian mother was released on a three-day furlough

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugs her daughter Gabriella, in Iran. Free Nazanin Campaign
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugs her daughter Gabriella, in Iran. Free Nazanin Campaign

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national held for more than two years in a Tehran jail for anti-regime activity, has been freed on temporary release, her family said in a statement.

The surprise move by authorities comes after the British government publicly backed the embattled Iran nuclear deal in the face of US opposition and the bank account of Iran’s embassy in London was unblocked.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe walked out of Tehran’s Evin jail on Thursday for an initial three-day period of freedom to be reunited with her three-year-old daughter, Gabriella, her parents, and other members of her Iran-based family. Her family hope that the home leave, furlough, will be extended.

“Furlough is not full freedom. We want her home, not just on holiday from prison,” said her husband Richard Ratcliffe in a statement from the UK. “But after 873 days it is a massive step.”

Under the terms of the release, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family had to provide surety of some $100,000. She is not allowed to leave the country, enter UK embassy grounds, or speak with the media.

“It will be just awesome for Gabriella to have mummy home finally,” she said in a statement. “The thought of brushing her hair and giving her a bath…. It just kills me. It is still so hard to believe.”

She added: “It felt like this really could be the beginning of the end.”

The release followed two weeks of raised hopes following a series of meetings with senior judicial officials, home inspections and discussions with lawyers. Members of the family were told by the British embassy to wait outside the jail on August 21 – only for her to be released two days later.

The aid worker was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 as she prepared to leave the country after a holiday to visit her family with her young daughter Gabriella.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the philanthropic wing of two British media organisations, was accused of working against the regime and jailed for five years after a secret trial.

She has suffered physical and mental health problems while inside and warned she faced potential further trials as tensions ratcheted upwards between Iran and the West as the Obama-era sanctions programme unravelled.

She is one of up to 30 dual nationals held in Iran on what campaigners are trumped-up charges amid geopolitical tensions and a continuing internal feud between competing factions of the regime.

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Read more:

UK turmoil hits bid to free jailed woman in Iran

Iran to try jailed British-Iranian aid worker on fresh charges

Briton faces longer jail term in Iran over UK’s ‘unpaid debt’

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Her husband led a highly-public campaign for her release despite the concerns of British diplomats that the policy could prove counter-productive.

Mr Ratcliffe had claimed she was being held because of Britain’s failure to pay a four-decade bill of some £390 million over an aborted arms deal to Shah-era Iran. It is understood that this sum has not been repaid.

Britain’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has met the family twice in the past month, welcomed the news but said that it remained a “gross injustice” that she had gone to prison at in the first place.

“Really good news that Nazanin has been released on furlough, credit to tireless campaigning by husband Richard and her friends,” he wrote in a Tweet. “But being in prison AT ALL is gross injustice and she must be PERMANENTLY released for which every effort will continue.”

The release remains only a partial victory and Mr Ratcliffe has not seen his daughter or his wife since the arrest as he has been unable to secure a visa. His daughter had stayed with family in Iran throughout the campaign for freedom.