British-Iranian woman ends five-year sentence, but not free yet

Published March 8, 2021
This undated file handout image released by the Free Nazanin campaign in London shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella. — AFP
This undated file handout image released by the Free Nazanin campaign in London shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe posing for a photograph with her daughter Gabriella. — AFP

TEHRAN: A British-Iranian woman held in an Iranian prison for five years on widely refuted spying charges ended her sentence on Sunday, her lawyer said, although she faces a new trial and cannot yet return home to London.

The twists and turns of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s years-long case have sparked international outrage and strained already fraught diplomatic ties between Britain and Iran.

Although Zaghari-Ratcliffe completed her full sentence and was allowed to remove her ankle monitor and leave house arrest, her future remains uncertain amid a long-running debt dispute between Britain and Iran and rising regional tensions.

It feels to me like they have made one blockage just as they have removed another, and we very clearly remain in the middle of this government game of chess, her husband Richard Ratcliffe said.

Iranian state-run media reported that she has been summoned to court on March 14 over murky new charges, including spreading propaganda,” which were first announced last fall. Her trial was then indefinitely postponed, stirring hopes for her return home when her sentence ended. Authorities released her on furlough last March due to surging coronavirus pandemic, and she has remained in detention at her parent’s home in Tehran since.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups vigorously deny. She was taken into custody at the airport with her toddler daughter after visiting family on holiday in the capital of Tehran in 2016. At the time, she was working for Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

The United Nations has described her arrest as arbitrary, and reported that her treatment, including stints in solitary confinement and deprivation of medical care, could amount to torture.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday welcomed the removal of Zaghari-Ratcliffes ankle tag but called for her to be allowed to return home.

Iran’s continued treatment of her is intolerable, he said on Twitter. She must be allowed to return to the UK as soon as possible to be reunited with her family.

The latest setback in Zaghari-Ratcliffes case comes as Britain and Iran negotiate a spat over a debt of some 400 million pounds ($530 million) owed to Iran by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered. The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.

Ratcliffe, who for years has campaigned vocally for his wife’s release, has said that Iran was holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe as collateral in the dispute. Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffes case is linked to the repayment deal. But a prisoner exchange that freed four American citizens in 2016 saw the US pay a similar sum to Iran the same day of their release.

Her case has also played out against rising tensions over Iran’s tattered atomic deal with world powers. Since former US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran has been accelerating its breaches of the pact by enriching more uranium than allowed, among other actions. Tehran is seeking to press the other signatories to the deal, including Britain, to help offset the economic devastation wrought by American sanctions.

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2021

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