Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.jpg
Born (1978-12-26) 26 December 1978 (age 41)
OccupationJournalism charity administrator
Known forCurrent imprisonment in Iran (July 2019)
Spouse(s)Richard Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (Persian: نازنین زاغری رتکلیف‎; born 26 December 1978[1]) is a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016. In early September 2016 she was sentenced to five years' imprisonment allegedly for "plotting to topple the Iranian government".[2][3] She was temporarily released on 17 March 2020. [4]

The prosecutor general of Tehran had stated in October 2017 that she was being held for running "a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran".[5]

Arrest and trial

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Canadian news agency Thomson Reuters' charitable arm, travelled to Iran on 17 March 2016 to visit her family for Nowruz (Iranian New Year) with her 22-month-old daughter. On 3 April 2016, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard arrested her at the Imam Khomeini Airport as she and her daughter were about to board a flight back to the UK.[6][7] Her daughter's British passport was confiscated during the arrest, but later returned, and she remained in Iran under the care of her maternal grandparents so she could visit her mother.[2][8]

The exact reason for her arrest was initially unclear, though according to Amnesty International it is believed to be related to the 2014 imprisonment of several Iranian technology news website employees. The head of Kerman province's justice department, Ali Tavakoli, said they had participated in projects run by the BBC and received funds from London:

"This gang was running a number of projects and plans for anti-revolutionary Iranians based abroad, especially for the BBC Persian, under the guise of legitimate activities. Financial aid for this group was usually provided from London under the pretext of charitable donations. The director of the team was an individual who has served the BBC as a mentor and teacher in a number of countries such as Malaysia, India and Afghanistan and his travels to these countries were paid for by British intelligence services."[9]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has worked for the BBC World Service Trust (now called BBC Media Action),[10] an international charity that provided training courses to Iranian citizen journalists and bloggers in its Iran Media Development Project's ZigZag magazine and associated radio programme.[11] In 2014, several graduates were convicted and sentenced by Iran to up to 11 years in jail for their participation in these courses.[12][13]

Nazanin worked for the BBC World Service Trust between February 2009 and October 2010, "in a junior capacity as a Training Assistant" according to the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, before moving to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.[5][14] BBC Media Action described her role as "junior and purely administrative".[15]

According to Yadollah Movahed, the head of the Justice Department in the Iranian city of Kerman, and as reported by the Iranian news network Press TV, Nazanin was arrested "over her involvement in post-election riots that engulfed Tehran and some other cities in 2009".[16] Movahed said Zaghari was among the suspects who "conducted activities against the security of the country by designing websites and carrying out campaigns in the media” during 2009. According to Movahed, Nazanin was not arrested for activity inside Iran or for activity during her 2016 holiday to Iran: “Some members of the group were outside Iran, including the suspect Nazanin Zaghari”.[16] Mashregh News, an outlet close to Iranian authorities, pointed to her alleged involvement with the human rights organizations Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Hivos as a motive for her arrest.[17]

According to Press TV in June 2016, "The CGRI headquarters in Kerman province announced that Nazanin Zaghari had been identified after a large intelligence operation. She was one of the liaison officers of networks hostile to Iran abroad. According to this source, she was responsible for several missions, and conducted her criminal activities under the direction of media and intelligence services of foreign governments."[18]

In early September 2016, she was sentenced to five years in prison "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime."[2][3] The prosecutor general of Tehran stated in October 2017 that she was imprisoned for running "...a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran".[5] PressTV in 2017 reported she had been "found guilty of spying and spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic",[19] describing the activities involved as her BBC World Service Trust work:

She identified potential Iranian recruits and invited them to attend the training courses, received and reviewed their resumes, managed financial affairs related to the courses in Malaysia and India, picked trainers, assessed the performance of the participants and managed the ZigZag Academy’s websites.[19]


On 23 August 2018, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released on temporary licence for three days, which is standard practice prior to lengthier releases.[20] However, Zaghari-Ratcliffe suffered from panic attacks after returning to prison, and regretted having been given the temporary release. Her husband said the temporary licence was a "cruel game" subject to conditions including the monitoring of her movements.[21]

In March 2019, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) granted Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, raising the status of her case from a consular matter to a dispute between the two governments.[22] Iran argues the designation is contrary to international law, the Master Nationality Rule, with Iran's ambassador in London stating "Governments may only exercise such protection for own nationals, ... Iran does not recognise dual nationality".[23]

On 11 October 2019, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's daughter returned to her father in the United Kingdom to start school.[24]

In December 2019, the prosecutor general of Iran denied conditional release for Nazanin Zaghari, which was requested by her lawyer.[25]

1971 arms deal dispute

In February 2018, Richard Ratcliffe said he believed his wife's release was dependent on the interest on a £450 million debt the UK has owed to Iran since the 1970s for a cancelled arms deal.[26][27] In October 2019 he repeated the claim with more detail, stating that a government agency was using "every legal roadblock to delay and minimise the payment".[28]

In 1971, the Iranian government, then under the Shah of Iran, paid Britain for thousands of military vehicles as part of a £650m deal. When the Shah's regime fell, the succeeding Islamic regime asked for a partial refund on undelivered tanks. A complex legal dispute has existed between Britain and Iran ever since.[29]

In 2001, Iran won its case at arbitration against the supplying company, UK government owned International Military Services (IMS). In December 2002, IMS paid £500 million into the Court Funds Office as security, claiming that EU sanctions prevent it from paying any money directly to the Iranian government, to await a High Court action.[29][30][31] The Iranian government has since applied to HM Treasury's Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation for approval of its payments. A judge has been asked to rule on the final amount owed, which is likely to be around £400 million.[32]

In 2013, Iranian officials coming to Britain to progress court action on the debt had their visas revoked on arrival at Heathrow Airport, and were detained a few days before deportation.[27][31]

In January 2016, the United States refunded Iran $400 million for undelivered military equipment which was associated with the release of four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, which could be viewed as a precedent for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's situation.[33][34]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was allegedly told by her military interrogators of the link between her detention and the disputed arms deal.[32] This claim was denied by both the Iranian Foreign Ministry[35] and the British Foreign Office, with the latter stating:

This is a longstanding case and relates to contracts signed over 40 years ago with the pre-revolution Iranian regime. We and the Iranians reject any idea the two issues are linked. Funding to settle the debt was paid to the High Court by the Treasury and the International Military Services in 2002. Iran's Ministry of Defence remains subject to EU sanctions.[36]

The UK's Ministry of Defence is reportedly unwilling to release settlement funds because it believes the Iranian Government would use the money to extend Iran's military activities in Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.[37] A High Court hearing on the return of the debt was scheduled for May 2019, but as it is an action for enforcement of an arbitration award the proceedings are confidential and private.[38]

Release campaign

On 7 May 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe launched an online petition[39] urging both the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Iran's supreme leader to take appropriate action to secure the safe return of his wife and daughter. The petition now has over 3.5 million supporters in 155 countries. Through his lawyers, Richard Ratcliffe has pressed for any settlement of the IMS deal to be paid to an entity other than the Iranian Government's defence ministry, [40] alternatively that the dispute be settled in humanitarian aide rather than cash, thereby circumventing EU sanctions.[41] In April 2019 the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested a prisoner swap.[42]

Boris Johnson intervention

On 1 November 2017, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said "When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit."[43] These remarks appear to have put her at risk, prompting condemnation from politicians across the spectrum including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, leading to calls for Boris Johnson to be sacked.[44] A central part of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's defence was that she was there on a holiday and never worked to train journalists in the country.[45]

Her employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, called on Johnson to "immediately correct the serious mistake he made" in this statement. They added "She is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation". Four days later, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court in Iran where the Foreign Secretary's statement was cited as evidence against her.[46][47]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was thought likely to appear in court again on 10 December 2017 to face additional charges relating to her work for the BBC World Service Trust;[48][49] however, Iranian court officials released a statement that no new charges had been raised and these reports were false.[50] Boris Johnson visited Tehran on 9 December 2017, raising the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.[51]

United Nations

The United Nations has on several occasions called for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release. On 7 October 2016, the United Nations rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, called on Iran to immediately release Zaghari-Ratcliffe.[52] The call was repeated a year later by Shaheed's successor, Asma Jahangir, as well as by José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: "We consider that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily deprived of her liberty and that her right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated … These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law".[53] The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had also formally called for her immediate release in its Opinion 28/2016, adopted in August 2016.[53]

Further calls for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release have been made by the US Congress, the Canadian Parliament,[54] and the European Parliament.[55]

Hunger strike

In June 2019, both Nazanin and Richard Zaghari-Ratcliffe went on hunger strike, in protest at Nazanin's imprisonment, with Richard Zaghari-Ratcliffe camping outside the Iranian Embassy in London. They both ended the hunger strike on 29 June 2019, after 15 days.[56][57]

Coronavirus pandemic

In February 2020, as the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic spread to Iran, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was suspected of falling ill with COVID-19 from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Her family called on the UK and Iranian governments to ensure that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was tested for the virus and received proper medical treatment.[58] However, Iran's judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said she did not have coronavirus and was in "good health". Gholamhossein also described reports of her infection as "propaganda".[59] On 17 March, she was temporarily freed for two weeks until 4 April, which was later extended until 18 April.[60][61]

See also


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