Fears rise Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be returned to Iran jail

By Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The husband of the British-Iranian dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says he fears his wife may be returned to jail in Iran in the next few weeks after another prominent prisoner was ordered back behind bars.

Aras Amiri, a UK-based Iranian national and former British Council employee, was ordered back to jail at the weekend after being furloughed on 9 April.

Nearly half of Iran’s political or security prisoners were released as part of a wider prisoner release programme implemented amid fears Covid-19 was about to sweep through Iran’s jails.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been staying at her parents’ home in Tehran since the middle of March, when she was released and made to wear an electronic tag.

Timeline Show Hide

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is arrested at Imam Khomeini airport as she is trying to return to Britain after a holiday visiting family with her daughter, Gabriella.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's health deteriorates after she spends several days on hunger strike in protest at her imprisonment.

Iran’s supreme court upholds her conviction.

Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, tells a parliamentary select committee "When we look at what [she] was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism". Four days after his comments, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is returned to court, where his statement is cited in evidence against her. Her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, deny that she has ever trained journalists, and her family maintain she was in Iran on holiday. Johnson is eventually forced to apologise for the "distress and anguish" his comments cause the family.

Her husband reveals that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has fears for her health after lumps had been found in her breasts that required an ultrasound scan, and that she was now “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.

She is granted a temporary three-day release from prison.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on hunger strike again, in protest at the withdrawal of her medical care.

The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, takes the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection – a move that raises her case from a consular matter to the level of a dispute between the two states.

The UK upgrades its travel advice to British-Iranian dual nationals, for the first time advising against all travel to Iran. The advice also urges Iranian nationals living in the UK to exercise caution if they decide to travel to Iran.

Richard Ratcliffe joins his wife in a new hunger strike campaign. He fasts outside the Iranian embassy in London as she begins a third hunger strike protest in prison.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe ends her hunger strike by eating some breakfast. Her husband also ends his strike outside the embassy.

According to her husband, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was moved from Evin prison to the mental ward of Imam Khomeini hospital, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have prevented relatives from contacting her.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's five year old daughter Gabriella, who has lived with her grandparents in Tehran and regularly visited her mother in jail over the last three years, returns to London in order to start school.

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Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said: “Our thoughts are with Aras and her family. Walking back into prison is no easy thing. For Nazanin’s case, I am interpreting Aras Amiri’s return as a bad sign, that the wind is threatening to change. Others are also being summoned.

“I take it as a signal to the UK that patience is not infinite, and that we all continue to be in their chess game. I have asked the Foreign Office for the UK ambassador in Tehran to go and visit Nazanin, for the added diplomatic protection, and the signal that the government is not afraid even in Iran to stand publicly by its citizens.”

Another British-Iranian, Anoosheh Ashoori, has been kept in jail on the basis he was serving a longer sentence, even though at the age of 66 he was more vulnerable to the disease than younger prisoners serving shorter sentences.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter is in London, and the family have been in daily contact via Skype.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has more than a year to serve of a five-year sentence imposed in 2016, has not been granted clemency as her family hoped. Some signals have been sent about Iran’s ministry of foreign affairs seeking a prisoner swap, mainly for US prisoners, on the basis that imprisoned Iranians in US jails were at risk from Covid-19. but nothing substantive has occurred. The most likely time for a mass enforced return to jails will be after the end of Ramadan in less than a fortnight.

Tensions between Iran and the west have risen again with the US threatening to find a way to prevent a five-year arms embargo on Iran expiring in October, as stipulated in the original 2015 nuclear deal. The US is claiming it is still legally a party to the nuclear deal it signed in 2015, even though Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. By being party to the deal, the US can call for the reimposition of sanctions against Iran that existed before 2015.

Majid Takht-e-Ranchi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, told Etemad newspaper the US position was a joke, but the US move places diplomatic pressure on the UK, France and Germany, the three European signatories to the deal.