Iran ends aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe's house arrest, but she faces new trial

Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen in an undated photograph handed out by her family.
Iranian-British aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is seen in an undated photograph handed out by her family. © Ratcliffe family handout, Reuters.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 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. However, she faces a new court date in Iran on March 13 for charges including “spreading propaganda”.

Advertising

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was able to remove her ankle bracelet for the first time since she was released from prison on furlough last March because of the surging coronavirus pandemic, the lawyer said. She has been under house arrest at her family's home in Tehran since.

It is not “not clear yet,” whether she can leave the country, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer Hodjat Kermani told AP.

"I have been in touch with Nazanin's family. Some news: 1) Thankfully her ankle tag has been removed. Her first trip will be to see her grandmother. 2) Less positive - she has been summoned once again to court next Sunday," Tulip Siddiq, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's local MP in the UKwrote on Twitter.

Last autumn, Iranian state TV abruptly announced a new indictment against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but the trial was indefinitely adjourned. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported that Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be summoned to court on March 13 over these new charges, which include “spreading propaganda against the system.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, 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. At the time, she was working for Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

01:26

In what the UN has criticised as an “emerging pattern”, Iran has frequently arrested dual citizens in recent years, often using their cases as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK government welcomed the fact she was no longer electronically tagged.

But he called her treatment by the authorities in the Islamic Republic "intolerable".

"She must be allowed to return to the UK as soon as possible to be reunited with her family," he wrote on Twitter.

The twists and turns of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention have played out against a decades-old debt dispute between Britain and Iran. The countries have been negotiating the release of some £400 million (€467 million) held by the UK, 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 theocratic system that endures today.

Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s 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.

Richard Ratcliffe, who for years has campaigned vocally for his wife’s release, has said that Iran was holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe in retaliation for the tank sale dispute.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning