LONDON - The family of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran on espionage charges has demanded that the British government take a bigger role in securing her release, two years after the young mother was detained while visiting relatives.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. The 39-year-old was arrested at Tehran’s airport as she tried to leave Iran in April 2016 and later sentenced to jail for five years on charges of seeking to overthrow the government. Nazanin and her family have maintained she was in Iran on vacation.
In an interview with VOA, her husband, Richard, said their hopes had been raised in recent weeks that her release was imminent — but she is caught in the middle of a diplomatic tussle between London and Tehran.
“The head of the prison, of Evin prison, said to her, ‘Look, I’ve approved your release. I approved your release months ago, but it’s not in my hands.’ And then the judge in charge of parole said, ‘Look, we can move you to guarded house arrest if you want something, but we can’t release you at the moment. There’s this problem between the British government and the Iranian government over the interest calculation on an old debt,'” Ratcliffe told VOA.
That debt is believed to concern an arms deal that collapsed with the Iranian revolution in 1979, leaving Tehran millions of dollars out of pocket.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family wants British Prime Minister Theresa May to become more involved in the case, given its apparent political nature.
Last year, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pledged to leave ‘no stone unturned’ to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release. He traveled to Tehran to discuss the matter with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. Richard Ratcliffe said there has been little communication since then.
“Part of what we’re pushing for now is to meet with the foreign secretary again, to meet with him in the presence of lawyers and to talk through — given it feels like there’s a standoff between both governments — what do they think Nazanin’s rights are?”
Richard Ratcliffe hasn’t seen his daughter for two years. Gabriella was just a year old when her mother was detained, leaving her in the care of her grandparents.
“Now, she’s a little girl. She speaks Farsi, she doesn’t speak English. Her relationship with both her parents, but certainly with me, is a much more remote relationship. We do sort of funny faces and games on the phone, but she’s still too small to really engage on the phone. And there will be — we’ll need to learn to be a parent again,” Ratcliffe said.
Family and supporters held an event in London Monday to mark the two-year anniversary of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention.
In a statement Tuesday, the British Foreign Office said it is continuing to approach the case "in a way that we judge is most likely to secure the outcome we all want," adding it would not provide a running commentary "on every twist and turn."
Each of those twists continues to cause anguish for Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her family and friends.