The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian charity worker who is arbitrarily detained in Iran for several years now, has said she is “very, very angry” after learning about the collapse of a deal to bring her home.
Mrs. Zaghari-Ratcliffe fears that she is being used as a “bargaining chip” in ongoing nuclear talks, The Guardian newspaper reported.
She is filled with “anger at her life being stolen” and the government’s “lack of urgency” in securing her release, her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said.
The 43-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of “plotting to topple the Iranian government” in 2016, a charge she has always denied.
She was released temporarily in 2020 due to the Covod-19 pandemic but was given another sentence in 2021 for “spreading propaganda.”
She is now under house arrest in Tehran, unable to return to her husband and seven-year-old daughter, Gabriella, in the UK.
On Wednesday, ministers of UK Parliament were informed that Britain had signed an agreement to secure her release in the summer, but that the deal had collapsed.
Officials had previously refused to confirm that any agreement had been made, but when questioned about it by the couple’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not deny it.
It is understood that the UK had agreed to repay a £400 million (US$542 million) debt it owes to Iran relating to an unfinished deal to export British armaments in the 1970s.
The government has not revealed why the Zaghari-Ratcliffe agreement failed, but there are fears that it is linked to negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons.
Tehran is taking part in talks in Vienna with diplomats from the US, France, Germany, Russia, China and the UK, who hope to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
When questioned by Siddiq, Johnson said that the unpaid debt was “difficult to settle and square away for all sorts of reasons to do with sanctions.”
Ratcliffe said that his wife was “amazed” by the prime minister’s comments. She told him: “I could have been home last year. Why am I still here? They have ruined my life, day by day, for six years. Where is Johnson’s urgency? I just want to come home.”
The prime minister has pledged to meet Ratcliffe, who has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s release, although a date for the meeting has yet to be fixed.
Ratcliffe is expected to meet officials from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in the coming days.
Siddiq has urged transparency about the collapse of the deal. “My constituent, Richard, starved himself almost to death during a hunger strike. He didn’t eat for three weeks. I think they have a duty to explain themselves,” she said.
Ratcliffe ended his 21-day hunger strike in November last year.
“Why did it go wrong? What’s stopping it from being solved now? I worry we’ve become a bargaining chip in the nuclear negotiations and that the debt is now leverage on the UK side,” he said.
A spokesman for the FCDO said that the government remains “committed to securing the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz. It is unhelpful to connect wider bilateral issues with those unfairly detained in Iran.
“Separately, the UK has always said we are committed to paying this debt to Iran. We continue to explore options as a matter of urgency to resolve this case, and will not comment further as discussions are ongoing.” (Source: Arab News)