'Is that mummy?' Nazanin's tearful reunion with family after 6 year hell in Iranian jail

17 March 2022, 00:19 | Updated: 17 March 2022, 10:35

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe arrived home after her six-year ordeal in Iran
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe arrived home after her six-year ordeal in Iran. Picture: Liz Truss/Tulip Siddiq/Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had a tearful reunion with her family in Britain, after a six-year wrongful detention in Iran was brought to an end as the UK Government settled an outstanding £400 million debt.

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The British-Iranian mother returned to Britain, along with a second dual national, Anoosheh Ashoori whilst a third British detainee, Morad Tahbaz, was released from prison on furlough.

Nazanin's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and their 7-year-old daughter, Gabriella, were visibly elated as they awaited her arrival at RAF Brize Norton overnight.

As Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe disembarked the flight, Gabriella was heard asking "is that mummy?" and went on to shout "mummy" as she walked down the plane's stairs.

The family was seen talking and hugging through the windows of the airport reception building for at least an hour after Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe landed, with Gabriella also being seen running excitedly around the room and being carried on her mum's hip.

Mr Ratcliffe's sister, Rebecca, tweeted a picture of the family, thanking everyone who had helped bring them back together.

Read more: 'We took too long' to free Nazanin: Jeremy Hunt admits as she flies home from Iranian jail

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was "delighted" that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori were home.

She tweeted: "Delighted that Nazanin and Anoosheh have landed safely in the UK and are reunited with their families and loved ones.

"Welcome home."

She was also a part of the welcome party watching the pair arrive at RAF Brize Norton.

Asked whether Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori thanked her following their return, Ms Truss said: "Well, I thank them and I thank the families for how stoical they've been during this really, really difficult period.

"And we talked about the process that we've been through, the difficult last part of making sure that they were able to leave Iran but it's so fantastic to welcome them back safe and well here in Britain."

It comes after Mr Ratcliffe, who campaigned tirelessly for her release including staging a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office, said the first thing his wife wanted after touch down in the UK was a cup of tea.

He said: "It is going to be lovely to see her, lovely to catch up with her."

After hearing MPs speak in the House of Commons, he told the Press Association the family would "be away for a couple of days recuperating, doctors and check-ups and so on".

The family were put up in Government-supported accommodation for the night.

But after returning to their home, the first thing his Nazanin wanted to do was "sit down on the sofa, make a cup of tea, and just be in the living room together".

"I think actually we were looking at the house and it needs a bit of tidying, so there might be a bit of tidying, perhaps directed by mummy when she comes back," Mr Ratcliffe said.

"This will be a chapter in our lives, but there are many more chapters to come."

Richard said her release meant the couple and their daughter Gabriella "can stop being a moment in history and start being a normal family again" and together they were "looking forward to a new life".

He had been "kept out of the loop" on discussions about settling the arms debt, but was "relieved the problem has been solved".

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In a statement the family of Mr Ashoori said: "This day has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in bringing Anoosheh home.

"1,672 days ago our family's foundations were rocked when our father and husband was unjustly detained and taken away from us. Now, we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained on security charges by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday visit to Iran, where she introduced her daughter Gabriella to her parents.

Mr Ashoori has been in prison for almost five years while Mr Tahbaz has been held for four.

Read more: Former hostage Terry Waite reveals he advised Nazanin to take her return home slowly

Their release follows months of intensive diplomatic negotiations between London and Tehran.

Liz Truss said: "We have the deepest admiration for the resolve, courage and determination Nazanin, Anoosheh and Morad, and their families, have shown.

"They have faced hardship that no family should ever experience and this is a moment of great relief."

Mr Ratcliffe has long claimed that his wife was being used as a pawn in a dispute between the UK and Iran over the unpaid debt linked to an arms deal.

The UK has paid the £393.8 million owed to Iran after it cancelled an order of Chieftain tanks following the overthrow of the shah in the revolution of 1979.

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In a statement, Ms Truss confirmed the debt had been settled "in parallel" with the release of the detainees.

She said it had been done "in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations".

She added: "These funds will be ring-fenced solely for the purchase of humanitarian goods."

Sanctions on the Tehran regime had been one of the key sticking points in being able to settle the debt.

After a nervous wait for final confirmation of their release from Iran, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori were initially taken to the Gulf state of Oman, which has been closely involved in the behind-the-scenes negotiations to secure their freedom.

Oman's foreign minister, Badr Albusaidi, posted a picture of them arriving at the airport, adding: "Soon they will be with their loved ones at home."

From there it is expected they will be flown on a Government-chartered flight to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

In the Commons, with Mr Ratcliffe and Gabriella, seven, watching, Ms Truss set out details of their release.

"It was only when we heard that the wheels were up in Tehran that we really knew it was happening," she said.

Tulip Siddiq, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's MP, told the Commons: "I want to pay tribute to my constituent Richard Ratcliffe for his relentless campaigning, but I also think he's really set the bar high for all husbands."

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But Mr Tahbaz remains in Iran, effectively under house arrest. Ms Truss said his position was complicated because he is a British-Iranian-US tri-national. "That is seen in Iranian eyes as also meaning that the US are involved," she said.

"And we are working very closely with the US. We have secured his release from prison.

"Of course we want to see him come home, and we will continue to work to achieve that with our US partners."

While there were plaudits in the Commons for Ms Truss and the Foreign Office finally securing Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was singled out for criticism.

In 2017, as foreign secretary, he wrongly told MPs that she had been training journalists at the time of her arrest - something which the Tehran regime seized on as proof that she was engaged in "propaganda against the regime".

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said Ms Truss "showed more skills in diplomacy than her bungling boss". Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Saudi capital Riyadh, Mr Johnson said he was "thrilled" that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was finally free.

"We must always realise that, sadly, the regime in Tehran is capable of holding people in this way. I think that people do need to recognise that," he said.