Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: what happened and where next?

On April 3rd 2016, British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained as she was about to board a flight back to the UK. Although her family and Amnesty International have been campaigning for her release since 2016, in recent months her case has been featured on national news due to comments made by Boris Johnson. By looking at the various events that led up to Johnson’s comments and acknowledging how they affect her case, it is clear that her release will be hard to secure.

Iranian news network PressTV reported that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest and subsequent sentencing was in connection with her involvement in the post-election conflicts in 2009, in which it is claimed she “conducted activities against the security of the country by designing websites and carrying out campaigns in the media”. The 2009 post-election riots are often referred to as the “Twitter revolution”, as Twitter and other social media sites were essential for communication between the protestors. The protests lasted nearly eight months and led to the arrests of, according to the Iranian government, 4,000 individuals, although the real figure may be higher. Journalists, both Iranian and foreign, were included in those arrests. Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked in an administrative role for the BBC World Service Trust (now known as BBC Media Action) which taught courses for Iranian journalists. However, she was never involved with these courses and this previous job cannot be used as evidence against her. Her current position as project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a news media charity, has been used as evidence against her. On September 10th 2016 she was formally sentenced to five years imprisonment for “allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime”.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Source: Free Nazanin.

On November 1st 2017, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson spoke about Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation stating that she was “simply teaching people journalism”. Not only was this a false statement, as she was on holiday visiting family in Iran, it was irresponsible and dangerous. Members of Parliament and the public called on Johnson to retract his statement, apologise, and resign as Foreign Secretary. After pressure he called the Iranian Foreign Minister to reiterate that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was on holiday and not in Iran to train journalists, however the damage had already been done. In the days following Zaghari-Ratcliffe was brought back to court and Johnson’s comments were used as further evidence against her.

She is due to appear in court again on December 10th, with Iranian authorities stating that she will be charged with “spreading propaganda against the regime”. Her family has claimed that these new charges could increase her sentence to 16 years, although this has not been confirmed. The Iranian Embassy in London has said that she may receive more years onto her sentence.

There are many issues with Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment, which are at the forefront of the campaign for her release. When she was initially arrested in April 2016 she was not told the reasons for her arrest and was put in solitary confinement for 45 days. During this time she was not permitted to speak to her family and was not able to speak to a lawyer until three days before the trial in September 2016, where she was sentenced to five years imprisonment. However, the most startling and worrying issue is that there is no legitimate evidence against her. She is being illegally imprisoned based on evidence that does not provide reason for arrest nor sentencing.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella. Source: Free Nazanin.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has now been in prison for nearly twenty months and there are concerns about her health, which has worsened since her imprisonment. She has arm, shoulder, and neck pain, and was denied access to healthcare which meant she was forced to suffer in pain. She was worried about breast cancer after discovering lumps – but has fortunately been given treatment and the all-clear. Alongside these physical effects, her imprisonment has had a serious impact on her mental health, with diagnoses of both depression and post-traumatic stress disorder noted by the prison psychiatrist.

She was arrested in front of her young daughter, Gabriella, who has remained in Iran since her mother’s arrest. She is not an Iranian citizen, and her British passport was originally confiscated, although it has now been returned. She visits her mother twice a week but is looked after by her maternal grandparents. Despite seeing her mother each week Gabriella speaks Farsi and only little English, which makes communication with her British father difficult. She was only 22 months old when her mother was arrested and has now spent nearly half of her life visiting her mother in prison; this is no life for a child.

Although Zaghari-Ratcliffe has both Iranian and British nationality, this is not recognised by the Iranian government and thus she is not permitted British consular advice or involvement. However, the UK government could offer diplomatic protection which would mean that the situation would be treated as a formal, legal dispute between the UK and Iran. The UK government have claimed that they are working on all ends to secure her release, with both Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May raising her case with high-ranking Iranian officials. However, it appears that pressure from the UK government needs to be increased for progress to be made. The United Nations have called for her release on multiple occasions stating that her arrest and lack of fair trial are human rights violations.

In order for Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released and reunited with her family, pressure must continue to be put on both the UK and the Iranian government. There are two main petitions calling for her release; Amnesty International and a one set up by her husband. For more information on her case and the upcoming trial visit

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