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Hopes and fears remain after latest twist in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe saga

Kim Sengupta
·3-min read
British-Iranian aid worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, poses for a photo after she was released from house arrest in Tehran (Zaghari family via Reuters)
British-Iranian aid worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, poses for a photo after she was released from house arrest in Tehran (Zaghari family via Reuters)

The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran after the end of her five-year sentence has raised flickering hope she will be reunited at last with her family back in Britain.

But the uncertainty which has long permeated this case continues with the news that she will have to appear in court next week to face a new set of charges.

The term served by Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

The new indictment is for alleged involvement in propaganda activity against the state by taking part in protests at the Iranian embassy in London in 2009, and speaking to BBC Persian, a network which Tehran accuses of spreading malicious disinformation.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is British-Iranian, has always vigorously denied the allegations against her, and it remains unclear whether the authorities will pursue a new prosecution in a case which has led to an enormous amount of international criticism.

The evidence which is likely to form the basis of a new prosecution case has been aired publicly by Iranian officials in the past and was available at Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s first trial.

The authorities had warned about the second set of charges four years ago and on subsequent occasions, including in last September, but had desisted from carrying through with it.

There has been, it is believed, differing and conflicting views about the legal proceedings against Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe within the Iranian hierarchy.

She served the last year of her sentence under house arrest at her family home in Tehran. An ankle bracelet which stopped her from going more than 300 metres from the house has now been removed.

Her lawyer said: “She was pardoned by Iran’s supreme leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they’re cast off. She has been freed.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe will not be able to leave Iran until the issue of the new charges is resolved. Diplomats from the British Embassy in Tehran are believed to be in regular contact with the Iranian authorities.

Volatile relations between Tehran and the West have played an important part, it has long been held, in the incarceration of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals in Iranian custody.

Although talks between the new Biden administration in the US and Iran over the country’s nuclear deal with international powers are yet to take place, there have been several recent moves which Iranian diplomats say are positive.

Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Ge
Free Nazanin campaign/AFP via Ge

On Saturday it was announced that Washington has given the go ahead for the release of $6bn (£4.3bn) of Iranian funds frozen in Iraq due to American sanctions. This follows similar moves last month over $9bn (£6.5bn) in Iranian money held in South Korea.

Last week three signatories of the nuclear agreement – Britain, France and Germany – withdrew a motion censuring Iran at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) for breaches by Iran. Tehran holds that it is entitled to change some conditions after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the deal.

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