Thursday 24 January 2019

My wife's Iran jail ordeal will be over soon, says husband

Jailed British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella. Photo: PA
Jailed British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella. Photo: PA

Josie Esnor

A British mother in prison in Tehran has been told she is eligible for early release, in the most positive sign yet she may be freed on humanitarian grounds following pressure from the UK government.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe told her husband, Richard, that her lawyer said the Iranian judiciary has changed her case status from "closed" to "eligible for release".

The charity worker, who has British and Iranian nationality, is serving five years for trying to topple the Iranian government, charges she has denied.

"I'm not counting my chickens yet, but this is the most optimistic we've been in some time," Mr Ratcliffe, from London, said.

"It's quite possible she may be home by Christmas, or Boxing Day [her 39th birthday] but if not, it will definitely be over very soon - either days or weeks."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who had been working for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been in prison for 18 months, included spells in solitary confinement. She has been separated from Gabriella, her infant daughter, who was with her at the time of her arrest in April last year.

The move marks a dramatic reversal of the family's fortunes after her case was complicated by comments made by Boris Johnson in November. The UK foreign secretary told a parliamentary committee that she had been training journalists at the time of her arrest, comments that were then cited by the Iranian judiciary as evidence of propaganda activities.

Iran seized on the gaffe and brought Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe back to court to face further charges that could have seen her sentence doubled.

But Mr Ratcliffe said despite the trauma it caused them, Mr Johnson's comment may have inadvertently helped by adding pressure on her case.

He said the "tide turned" after a visit from Mr Johnson to Tehran earlier this month.

"Immediately after, we felt there was no hope, but lots of work has been put into her case as a result and things have turned around," he said.

"Since then, we've had the second court case postponed and then cancelled. This week, she has been allowed extra visits and calls every day.

"She's sounding a lot more upbeat but fundamentally still anxious. It has been a long road."

He said she was also visited on Wednesday by the prosecutor's deputy for the first time.

Mr Johnson had appealed to Mohammad Javad Zarif, his Iranian counterpart, to release her on humanitarian grounds.

He was unable to meet with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in person as Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and she is therefore considered solely Iranian.

Her lawyer said in Iran, prisoners are eligible for release after serving a third of their sentence. She has served 18 months of a five-year sentence.

He said he applied to the prosecutor's office for her early release in October, but believes it was not approved until after Mr Johnson's "frank" talks with officials in Tehran.

Tulip Siddiq, the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, the Ratcliffes' constituency, said the news had given the family a "glimmer of light at the end of a very dark tunnel".

© Daily Telegraph

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