CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s freedom hope as Iran extends temporary jail release

All campaigns to secure her release have failed so far - and she has served four years in prison

23 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and husband Richard

SUPPORTERS of a charity worker locked up in Iran on vague spying charges are hoping her temporary release from prison will be a step to winning her freedom.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, from West Hampstead, has spent the past four years in prison and found herself at the centre of a global campaign to bring her home. She learned on Sunday that a fortnight’s “furlough” – a temporary release scheme in Iran – would be extended by a month.

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq, who has regularly brought the case up in the House of Commons, is now calling on the UK government to step up its attempts to secure her constituent’s release.

She told the New Journal yesterday (Wednesday): “It’s good news that Nazanin’s furlough has been extended but we still have a lot to fight for. “She’s required to wear her ankle tag which means she can’t visit the hospital in Tehran for her medical tests or visit her elderly grandmother.”

She added: “I’m pushing the government to fight for her clemency so she can return to the UK after the lockdown is lifted and be reunited with her family after four long years.”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has consistently denied plotting to overthrow the government during a holiday trip to Iran with her daughter, Gabriella, in April 2016. The government has also argued her innocence, but diplomatic negotiations have so far failed to secure her release.

Her case was said to have been dealt a blow when Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a parliamentary committee that she Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in the country training journalists.

This has been completely denied by Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her supporters, and her employers, Thomson Reuters. Judges handed down a five-year prison term, although the exact charges have never been fully clear to supporters.

It has been reported that 1,000 foreign prisoners were released by Iran temporarily due to fears that coronavirus was overwhelming the country’s jails. There had been concerns that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had herself been infected last month.

Ms Siddiq said she had been “delighted” to speak to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, on Tuesday following the announcement that the temporary release would be extended.

His attempts to win his wife’s freedom have included a hunger strike protest outside the Iranian embassy in London. Gabriella, who had been split up from her mother at Tehran airport after she was arrested, flew back to West Hampstead last year to start school.

The five-year-old daughter has been speaking to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Skype five times a day during her temporary release period.

Mr Ratcliffe told the BBC how he had, with his wife, been discussing “home schooling and normal parenting”, adding: “It’s been nice to muddle our way through that. It’s funny how quickly that almost becomes normal again seeing her on a Skype screen and being able to talk to her late at night and early in morning. It’s lovely.”

A statement from Amnesty International added: “There should be no question of Nazanin ever being sent back to Evin prison. There are numerous reports of Covid-19 in Iranian jails, with detainees pleading for basic things like soap to help combat the disease.”

More than three million people have signed a petition for her release. She has been released on ‘furlough’ once before but later had her hopes dashed when she was recalled to prison.

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