Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe felt “euphoric” after the end of her five-year sentence in Iran, but the prospect of fresh court proceedings means the “jeopardy” over her future freedom remains, her husband said.
Hopes were raised on Sunday that the 42-year-old British-Iranian’s ordeal was reaching the “endgame” after being released from house arrest and having her ankle tag removed.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, of north London, who was detained in 2016 as Iranian authorities made widely refuted spying allegations, finished the latter part of her sentence under house arrest due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe was accompanied by the couple’s six-year-old daughter Gabriella for a vigil outside the Iranian embassy in Knightsbridge, central London, on Monday.
Mr Ratcliffe attempted to deliver an Amnesty International petition of more than 160,000 signatures calling for his wife’s immediate release, but was turned away by someone speaking over the building’s intercom.
A small group of protesters stood in front of the embassy holding placards carrying the messages “Free Nazanin” and “still not forgotten”.
Mr Ratcliffe put his arm around his daughter as they both held a photo of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, while Gabriella also crossed off the final day in a calendar that counted the days until “mummy comes back home” and read out messages of support for her mother.
Speaking to the press, Mr Ratcliffe said the recent developments in his wife’s situation were “slightly better news than was expected” but highlighted that she was still being “threatened” with another court case in Iran next week.
Explaining the purpose of Monday’s protest, he said: “I wanted to do something just to say listen, she’s not forgotten.
“We’re still going to keep battling until she’s home.”
He added: “It is still the Iranian authorities that are holding Nazanin. They are now holding her even after the end of her sentence. That remains outrageous.”
He said he would be speaking to the UK Government on what they can do in terms of attending her next trial, and visiting his wife, as well as “what is going to stop Iran from holding innocent British citizens hostage”.
Mr Ratcliffe said he had spoken to the Foreign Secretary last week, who was “cautiously hopeful” about his wife’s case, with Dominic Raab saying it was the “closest it’s felt for him since he’s been in office”.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe felt “euphoric” and had a “big grin on her face” after her ankle tag was removed, her husband said.
He said he spoke to his wife on Monday morning and explained that she had been able to see her sister and grandmother and visit the family of another British citizen being held in Iran.
“Freedom definitely felt one step closer,” he said.
Mr Ratcliffe admitted he was “quite cautious and guarded” but said that in the last 24 hours he had spoken to other people who had been through his wife’s experience and they said it “reminds them of their last few days”.
“Let’s hope they’re right,” he added.
He said Sunday was a “happy day” but warned that as the week goes on “it may get a bit tougher”.
Mr Ratcliffe said that in campaigning for his wife’s release “there are ups and down, there is almost like a perpetual jeopardy as to whether it’s good news or bad news”.
He said his wife’s forthcoming new court case in Iran “might be a stunt” or “it might be a real sentence”, adding that her lawyer thought she could get convicted but with doubts over any potential sentence.
Mr Ratfcliffe said: “All along we’ve been kept guessing,” adding: “It has so often been both the possibility of good news and the possibility of bad news. The jeopardy remains. Until she’s home, she’s not.”
He said her lawyer had been told that the court proceedings are the continuation of a case from November over allegations of “spreading propaganda against the regime”.
Mr Ratcliffe said: “My reading of it at the moment is it’s a warning shot to the British authorities. She is still being there as leverage.”
He said the court proceedings were “entirely politically driven”, adding: “The tensions remain, she remains held by a bunch of bad guys who are using her for leverage. So we’re not out of it.”
Many have linked a long-standing debt running into hundreds of millions of pounds as central to the case, which has been dubbed “hostage diplomacy” by former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt.
The UK is thought to owe Iran as much as £400 million over the non-delivery of tanks in 1979, with the shipment stopped because of the Islamic revolution.
The UK continues to “explore options” to resolve that legal dispute but the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The UK does not and never will accept dual nationals being used as diplomatic leverage.”
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker who was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has strongly denied the widely refuted allegations that she was plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic’s government.
She was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport while taking their daughter Gabriella to see her parents in April 2016.