Sunday , 14 April 2024

Breaking: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri Freed

Iranwire – Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri are reportedly on their way back to the UK after years of captivity in Iran.

News of the dual nationals’ transfer to Imam Khomeini Airport was broken this morning by Nazanin’s local member of parliament in London, Tulip Siddiq. “Nazanin is at the airport in Tehran and on her way home,” the MP wrote on Twitter shortly after 10am GMT. Their lawyer Hojjat Kermani then confirmed to Reuters that both Nazanin and Anousheh were expected to leave Iran on Wednesday.

Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting then reported that the pair had been handed over to “the British government” at Imam Khomeini Airport and were due to leave the country on the same day. Judiciary spokesman Zabihullah Khodaian then confirmed to Fars News Agency that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had served her sentence and the travel ban on her had been lifted, while Anousheh Ashouri was said to have been “pardoned” and granted “conditional release”.

News of Nazanin and Anousheh’s apparent release came barely 24 hours after it emerged Nazanin’s British passport has been returned to her for the first time since her arrest in summer 2016. Both she and Ashouri, who was arrested after flying to Tehran to visit his elderly mother in 2017, have been held hostage in Iran on fabricated “espionage” charges – and later in Nazanin’s case, for so-called “propaganda against the regime” over a historic $400m debt Tehran claims it is owed by the UK, which precedes the Islamic Revolution.

British officials have remained tight-lipped on if, how and when the demand will be met and a related case is technically still ongoing in the High Court in London. But on Wednesday morning, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told reporters: “We have been clear this is a legitimate debt that we do owe Iran and we have been seeking ways to pay it.”

Iran’s official news agency IRNA also briefly carried a line in its online coverage of the day’s events stating that Morad Tahbaz, a British-Iranian-American environmentalist born in Hammersmith, West London, had also been released on furlough. Tahbaz has cancer and has been held in Iran since January 2018, facing a 10-year sentence for “espionage”.

The line was deleted by IRNA shortly afterward. But in a subsequent tweet, Truss said the same. “I can confirm Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri will return to the UK today, and Morad Tahbaz has been released from prison on furlough,” she wrote on Twitter. “They will be reunited with their families later today.”

Rupert Skilbeck, the director of Redress, an NGO that works with the victims of torture, told the UK’s Sky News that he had been in contact with Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe on Wednesday morning. “We understand that [Nazanin] is still in the control of the Revolutionary Guard,” he said. “The handover hasn’t yet taken place.

“It’s obviously the final stages of the release, where she will hopefully be put on a plane. But until that actually happens, everyone is incredibly anxious. We can only imagine what these last moments are like for them.”

Reuters has since reported, citing “a source close to the families”, that both Anousheh and Nazanin have since left Iran. British newspaper The Times has reports that Nazanin is expected to arrive back in the UK this evening on a government-chartered Titan Airways plane, landing in Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, at 10.30pm. More as we have it.