Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is hopeful after her release from house arrest, her husband said as he staged a protest outside the Iranian embassy in London with their daughter.
After completing a near five-year sentence in the Islamic Republic over allegations of plotting to overthrow its government, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe must now appear before an Iranian court in a week’s time to face new charges.
First threatened by Iranian authorities some four years ago, the charges concern Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's alleged involvement in propaganda activity against the state, including attending a 2009 demonstration outside its London embassy and speaking to BBC Persian.
The British-Iranian aid worker has been released from house arrest, where she spent most of the last year of her sentence due to Covid-19, and had her ankle tag removed on Sunday.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe said she remained “euphoric” on Monday as he launched a protest with the couple's six-year-old daughter Gabriella and his wife's brother Mohamed outside the embassy in Knightsbridge.
Mr Ratcliffe had planned to deliver a 160,000-signature Amnesty International petition to the embassy calling for his wife's immediate release, but was turned away by someone speaking over the building's intercom.
Explaining the purpose of Monday's protest to The Independent, he said: “We did this to remind them this is the day she was supposed to come home, and she needs to come home.
“We wanted to make it clear that they are responsible for the abduction of Nazanin and should have some shame.”
He added: “The Iranian government likes to live in a Ferrero Rocher world where they aren’t responsible.
“Until [they] take responsibility for [the] hostage problem it is going to continue.”
Mr Ratcliffe said his wife’s release made for a “happy day” – Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was said to enjoy her time driving around Tehran, visiting her grandmother and the family of former cellmates – though he feared “it may get a bit tougher” as the week goes on, with the court hearing for the new charges set for Sunday.
He said little is known about the upcoming court date aside from that it will be a continuation of November’s hearing, which was adjourned before Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe could give her defence.
“We don’t know if it will be perfunctory and time has served (we think it carries a one-year sentence) or if it is going to be heavy; either way the lawyer is sure she will be convicted,” he said, noting that people familiar with hostage negotiations said this was normal for the end of such a case.
He had earlier said he was “grateful” for foreign secretary Dominic Raab's condemnation of the “cruel and intolerable” treatment of his wife.
Mr Ratcliffe said: “I spoke last week to the foreign secretary who said, listen, I can't promise you it's going to be this weekend but it feels like we're close.
“Nazanin, the lawyer and the in-laws are hopeful, as is the foreign secretary,” he told The Independent. “I am more cautious. I think we are closer to her coming home than we have been in the last 4 years.
“But I don’t anything is inevitable by any means – they like to play games.”
Boris Johnson has urged Iran to release her “permanently”, adding that her “continued confinement remains totally unacceptable”.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been afforded diplomatic protection by the UK government, which argues she is innocent and that her treatment by Iran failed to meet obligations under international law.
The UK has been locked in a high-profile diplomatic dispute over her detention, and many have linked the episode to an outstanding debt Britain has owed to Iran since the 1970s.
Commentators, including Iranian Nobel laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, have said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being used as a political pawn, and Jeremy Hunt, the former foreign secretary, accused Iran of “hostage diplomacy”.
On Monday morning, the recently retired head of the Foreign Office, Lord McDonald, said the UK had been looking at repaying a £400m debt to Iran, accrued through non-delivery of arms sales reportedly blocked due to the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
“We acknowledge it is Iranian money and it does have to go back to Iran,” Lord McDonald told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, though he insisted the Foreign Office will “not allow” any potential repayment to be linked with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case.
Mr Ratcliffe said he is awaiting the outcome of a UK appeals court hearing on the Iran debt, due to take place on 20 April, which he thinks could influence his wife’s case.
“There is a wider climate – the Koreans have released money owed to the Iranians; it’s quite possible that it is moving forward and it will have a positive effect on Nazanin,” he told The Independent.
“The only way to deal with hostage-taking is carrot and stick; I don’t think waiting for the Iranians to get bored is disincentivising them.”
He said he feared the hearing would be postponed but added that Lord McDonald’s comments earlier gave him faith the case was not being stalled as it had been in the past.
Additional reporting by PA