Detained Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri freed after UK pays historic debt to Iran

Detained Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri freed after UK pays historic debt to Iran
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri - who were detained by Iran for six years and five years respectively - will return to the UK on Wednesday.
3 min read
16 March, 2022
The families of the formerly detained dual nationals campaigned tirelessly for their release [Getty]

British Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has arrived in Oman on the first leg of her return to the UK, after being detained for six years in Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's MP Tulip Siddiq said the charity worker had touched down in Muscat and expected to arrive in the UK later.

"I’ve just heard from Richard Ratcliffe that Nazanin has touched down in Muscat, from where she’ll board a flight to the UK," the MP tweeted.

"Hopefully not long left before we can reunite this amazing family in my constituency."

Another British-Iranian national Anousheh Ashouri - who was detained in Iran for five years -  is also returning to the UK, both governments have confirmed.

Iran claimed Zaghari-Ratcliffe was plotting against the government and Ashouri was held over espionage charges, accusations strongly denied by the two detainees, the UK government, and rights groups.

Their detention, and release, appears linked to historic debt owed by the UK to Iran.

The UK "settled" an International Military Services (IMS) debt with Iran, which was reportedly worth £400m (US$520m) and believed to be a key sticking point for Tehran in discussions surrounding the release of the British dual nationals.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashouri's families both say the women were being held as political prisoners.

The UK government has welcomed their release but has faced criticism for not securing their freedom earlier.

"Their release is the result of years of hard work and dedication by our brilliant diplomats... we have also settled the IMS debt in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations," Truss said in a statement received by The New Arab.

"These funds will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods."

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MP Tulip Siddiq - who worked tirelessly for Nazanin's release - said she feels she has made the difference she hoped to when she entered politics.

"It's been 6 long years... Nazanin is now in the air flying away from 6 years of hell in Iran. My heart goes out to Gabriella and Richard, as her long journey back home to them gets closer by the minute," Siddiq tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

She shared an image of Zaghari-Ratcliffe smiling on a plane bound for Muscat. 

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran said NGOs, MPs, the families of Nazanin and Anoosheh, and the public "have campaigned tirelessly for their release" but was critical of the delays.

"It should not have taken years to reach this day," she added.

"We should never have been in the situation where UK nationals are being used as political bargaining chips. The UK Government has questions to answer for whether their actions... have prolonged this ordeal. I hope the Foreign Secretary will commit to an independent inquiry," Moran said in a statement to The New Arab.

The now-settled debt stemmed from a cancelled 1970s weapons agreement, in which Iran paid for tanks which were never delivered. 

Iran has held other dual nationals, accused by human rights groups of holding innocent people hostage for political and economic gains.