Zaghari-Ratcliffe seeks freedom for remaining Iran hostages

Mar 21, 2022, 7:18 AM | Updated: 9:05 pm

LONDON (AP) — Former Iranian captive Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe said Monday that brushing her young daughter’s hair was one of her greatest joys upon returning home after almost six years of detention, and appealed for all of Iran’s remaining hostages to be reunited with their families as well.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen who went to Tehran in 2016 to visit her parents when her daughter was a toddler, was released last week after Britain settled a decades-old debt to Iran. She said she was grateful to be free but her journey wouldn’t be complete until the others return home. In particular, she cited the case of Morad Tahbaz, a U.K.-born environmentalist who was left out of the deal that secured her freedom.

“I believe that the meaning of freedom is never going to be complete until such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with our families,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe said at a news conference that included Tahbaz’s daughter.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and retired civil engineer Anoosheh Ashoori were released Wednesday amid efforts by Britain, the U.S. and other countries to secure freedom for dozens of dual nationals who they say have been held in Iran on trumped-up charges to squeeze concessions out of Western nations. Iran, which doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, has charged the detainees with crimes such as espionage and sentenced them to long prison terms under harsh conditions.

The breakthrough came as world leaders try to negotiate the return of both Iran and the U.S. to an international agreement limiting Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program — talks that have been complicated by the prisoner issue.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe said Monday that people like her shouldn’t be used as pawns in international disputes. She also criticized the U.K. government, and the five foreign secretaries who directed British foreign policy during her captivity, for failing to win her release sooner.

“I was told many, many times, ‘Oh, we’re going to get you home.’ But that never happened,” she said. “What’s happened now should have happened six years ago.”

Prior to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, the British government agreed to pay an almost 400 million-pound debt that stemmed from an arms deal canceled after the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Lawmaker Tulip Siddiq, who campaigned for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, has asked a House of Commons committee to investigate why it took so long to pay the debt and bring the U.K. citizens home.

When Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori were freed, the British government said it had also negotiated Tahbaz’s release on furlough, though he would remain in Iran while additional details were worked out. Tahbaz’s case is complicated by the fact that he holds U.S citizenship as well as British and Iranian ones.

His attorney in Iran, Hojjat Kermani, said Monday that Tahbaz was never released on furlough. Instead, he was only allowed to see his family in Tehran for 48 hours under the supervision of armed guards, then was returned to custody.

In another twist, Tahbaz was taken to a hotel on Sunday but then returned to Evin Prison on Monday.

“From the outset, we were always assured by the (Foreign Office) that my father would be included in any deal that was made to release all of the hostages, so we’re truly devastated knowing now that this was not the case,” said his daughter, Roxanne Tahbaz.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe refused to discuss any details about her time in captivity, declining to answer questions such as how she found the strength to persevere through months of solitary confinement or whether there were any acts of kindness shown by her prison guards.

She was more comfortable talking about the elation she felt walking off the airplane that reunited her with her husband and 7-year-old daughter early Thursday morning.

“That moment was precious,” she said. “I have been waiting for that moment for such a long time, and I was overwhelmed, specifically to get to know Gabriella and Richard after such a long time.”

During the press conference, Zaghari-Ratcliffe repeatedly looked into the audience and smiled as she made eye contact with Gabriella. Richard would occasionally reach over to hold her hand. The man who campaigned tirelessly to bring her home pronounced himself ready to step back from public life and help the family heal.

Not that this will be easy.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe seemed to be craving normality — the chance to braid her daughter’s hair or take on the school run so she could meet her child’s friends. After the press conference, she said, the family hopes for privacy.

“Gabriella told me on the phone one day I was in Iran, ‘Mummy, you do realize that you are very famous — and then it’s me, and then its daddy,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe said, drawing laughter from the reporters. “And then I said, ‘It’s not good to be famous because you won’t have a normal life.’ … And she was like, ‘Oh, you’re not going to be famous forever. Maximum a week.’

“So we’re bracing ourselves for a week of fame, then we’re just going to have a normal family.”

___

Associated Press Writer Isabel DeBre contributed to this report from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Zaghari-Ratcliffe seeks freedom for remaining Iran hostages