Flying to freedom: Nazanin smiles as she heads home after six years in Iranian jail

16 March 2022, 10:10 | Updated: 16 March 2022, 17:23

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been freed from Iran.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been freed from Iran. Picture: Alamy/Social media

By Sophie Barnett

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is finally flying back to the UK after six years of being detained by Iran.

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She has been photographed smiling on a plane as she is set to fly from Tehran and back to freedom.

Sharing the photo, MP Tulip Siddiq tweeted: "It's been 6 long years - and I can't believe I can FINALLY share this photo. Nazanin is now in the air flying away from 6 years of hell in Iran.

"My heart goes out to Gabriella and Richard, as her long journey back home to them gets closer by the minute."

It comes as the UK reportedly handed over £400 million to Iran in a deal to finally release the Brit as a prisoner.

Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin's husband said: "There will probably be a couple of days peace and quiet somewhere else, and then back here.

"The first thing she wanted was for me to make her a cup of tea, so we will do (that).

"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."

Speaking earlier to LBC's James O'Brien, Ms Zagahri-Ratcliffe's local MP Ms Siddiq, who represents Hampstead and Kilburn, said the British-Iranian mother was on her way home.

"I've just spoken to Richard [Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband] and he said the last he spoke to her she was still at the airport in Tehran and she was surprised to see Anoosheh Ashoori there, who's the other British citizen," Ms Siddiq said.

"She hadn't expected to see him. She had been under house arrest at her parents house whereas Anoosheh Ashoori had actually been in a prison so she didn't expect to see him there.

"She was delighted to see him. He is an elderly man who has been without his family as well. She called Richard to say she's at the airport, she's with Anoosheh and she still has her British passport."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sister-in-law explains her relief

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was given her British passport back by Iranian authorities on Tuesday, nearly six years after she was arrested.

Speaking to LBC's Tom Swarbrick, her sister-in-law Rebecca Ratcliffe said: "This morning, I found out that Nazanin had been taken to the airport from Richard.

"He sent a text message and in fact it was just now… I found out that she was finally on the aeroplane and is coming home after all these years, which is just fantastic."

She said there have been "lots of tears" and "joy" and added: "It's just a wonderful moment for us and boy have we had some bad times over the years.

"To find out she is finally on that plane home - you couldn't describe the joy we are feeling."

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe husband criticises 'pretty dark' Govt as hunger strike continues

Boris Johnson, visiting the Gulf states, tweeted: "The UK has worked intensively to secure their release and I am delighted they will be reunited with their families and loved ones."

Foreign secretary Liz Truss tweeted: "I can confirm Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will return to the UK today, and Morad Tahbaz has been released from prison on furlough. They will be reunited with their families later today.

"We will continue to work to secure Morad's departure from Iran."

She later told MPs in the House of Commons that the “agonies” of Britsh dual nationals in Iran "must never happen again", and that after "intense" talks a final round of negotiations in Muscat, Oman, got her freed.

She added: "We will work closely with our international partners to urge Iran to end its practice of unfair detention.

"It remains, and always has been, within Iran's gift to release any British national who has been unfairly detained."

Ms Truss went on: "It was only when we heard that the wheels were up in Tehran that we really knew it was happening.

"I was just extremely concerned to make sure that Nazanin and Anoosheh had really been able to leave Iran, and I'm so delighted that we are going to be able to welcome them home today, and the family is going to be able to welcome them home today.

"It's been an incredibly difficult time."

'Long and bitter fight' to get the government to take steps to bring Nazanin home.

And Labour's David Lammy, who presents on LBC, said in a statement: "The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori is wonderful news that is long overdue.

"It is shameful that for years the Iranian government used the freedom of British nationals as political bargaining chips.

"The British government must learn its own lessons over how Boris Johnson’s bungling diplomacy at times made the situation worse."

The aid worker was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 after taking her young daughter to visit family.

In September that same year she was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of "plotting to topple the Iranian government".

She spent four years in jail and one under house arrest. Her sentence ended in 2021 but she was then found guilty of propaganda activities against the government.

She has always denied the charges, and her British husband said she was actually imprisoned as "leverage" because of the UK's debt to Iran.

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is 'anxiously waiting with bags packed', MP says

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe negotiations with Iran 'going right up to the wire', says Boris

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq updates LBC in Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Anoosheh Ashoori, another British-Iranian, was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2019 for spying for Israel's Mossad and two years for "acquiring illegitimate wealth", according to Iran's judiciary.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since April 2016, Mr Ashoori since August 2017.

Their release comes hours after Ms Siddiq told LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was waiting at her home in Iran with her "bags packed".

She said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, "waited anxiously, for a knock on the door, with her bags packed".

Earlier, Boris Johnson said talks with Iran over releasing Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe were "moving forward" but that he could not say more as "negotiations continue to be underway".