Iran Opens Negotiation with the UK for Release of British-Iranian Charity Worker

It has been five years since six-year-old Gabriella last saw her mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Nazanin was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, on April 3rd, 2016.

The British-Iranian charity worker has now served five years in an Iranian prison for leading a ‘foreign-linked hostile network’ and for providing training for journalists and human rights activists, undermining the Iranian government.

Her supporters maintain that these accusations are false.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has described her prison conditions as torturous and is missing the primary years of her daughter’s life. In 2016, soon after her arrest, she was granted one phone call to her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and he quotes her as saying:

“I can’t bear to be in this place any longer.”

On April 26th, 2021, Nazanin had completed her prison sentence, but was cruelly handed an additional one-year jail term, due to her participation in the 2009 protests at the Iranian Embassy in London. This new sentence also included banning her from travelling out of Iran for a year. The amplified concerned voices of Nazanin’s supporters have prompted comments from the UK Prime Minister. PM Boris Johnson was quoted describing the situation as ‘cruel, inhumane and wholly unjustified.’ This emerging concern from the Prime Minister sparked hope for Nazanin’s supporters. Perhaps now her release could be negotiated?

Subsequent information surfaced last week – via an anonymous Iranian official – which exposed Britain’s failure to agree terms in a deal proposed by Iran, to secure Nazanin’s release. The alleged deal, requires the UK to repay Iran £400m of an outstanding debt, in exchange for the release of Nazanin.

The UK are refusing to link the debt (which pertains to military tank purchases made in the 1970’s) with this human rights case. The UK’s Foreign Office minister Mr. Cleverly has said that the negotiations between Iran and the UK are ongoing and reports that; ‘…they have been for a long while, sadly, but they are ongoing.’

Historically, Iran has not bowed to political pressure from other countries and therefore it seems entirely foreseeable that any deal will need to be tangible.

There is no question that a £400m debt is a significant sum for any country to be owing. It could even be hailed as an advantage that the UK has something Iran is willing to trade. The issue to be highlighted here is that the UK Prime Minister has publicly acknowledged that Nazanin is enduring unacceptable prison conditions and an equally undeserved prison sentence, yet is not trading moneys owing for the freedom of a UK citizen.

The situation remains frustratingly unchanged, despite the recent coverage alerting the public of Nazanin’s alleged deal. This leaves the charity worker, mother and wife, sitting in her cell for another year in prison, reflecting on the UK’s emphatic unwillingness to repay a historic debt to Iran.

Bella Christie