Bittersweet day as daughter of UK-Iranian held in Tehran comes home

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Tehran since 2016, holds his daughter Gabriella during a news conference in London, on October 11, 2019. — AFP pic
Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Tehran since 2016, holds his daughter Gabriella during a news conference in London, on October 11, 2019. — AFP pic

LONDON, Oct 11 — The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran, expressed his joy today at the return of their young daughter to Britain but also concern at the impact it would have on his wife.

“It’s a very happy day,” Richard Ratcliffe told a press conference as he cuddled five-year-old Gabriella on his lap.

She returned on Thursday night from Iran, where she has lived with her grandparents since Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest during a visit to family in Tehran in April 2016.

But Ratcliffe said it was a bittersweet moment as his wife was “distraught” at the departure of her daughter, who she has seen regularly during her detention on sedition charges.

The little girl’s visits to Evin prison had been “an important lifeline”.

“It was one of the things she really didn’t want to happen, for her daughter to leave and for her to still be stuck in prison,” he told reporters in parliament.

Ratcliffe called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to secure the return of his wife, who campaigners say is a victim of a diplomatic standoff between London and Tehran.

“We have been caught in the middle of a government fight,” he said, adding: “Their failure to solve it has had a huge human cost on our family.”

‘Johnson’s chance’

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in jail for allegedly trying to topple the Iranian government, which she denies.

Her case has unfolded amid escalating tensions between Tehran and the West, particularly the United States and Britain.

But Ratcliffe believes it is particularly linked to the failure of London to return £400 million owed to Tehran for a 1970s tank deal.

The deal was blocked after the 1979 Islamic Revolution but Britain kept the money. Its transfer is now complicated by EU and US sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, urged London to unblock the money so they could start discussing her release.

Ratcliffe has also accused Johnson of making his wife’s case worse by mistakenly stating, when he was foreign minister, that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists.

At the time of her arrest, she was a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media group’s philanthropic arm.

Ratcliffe said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sought to block Gabriella’s return, but the British embassy and the Iranian foreign minister intervened.

Afterwards, he said the Guard had threatened his wife again with court action linked to Johnson’s comments.

Ratcliffe is now seeking a new meeting with the premier, saying: “He hasn’t yet delivered for us. He has a chance.”

Meanwhile, Zaghari-Ratcliffe had to watch the recent release of her cell mate Jolie King, an Australian tourist held in Iran on charges of spying, after just three months.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s always great when one of your mates gets out. But there is always a ‘why not me?’ Why can the Australian government solve it and I can’t?” Ratcliffe said.

‘Very brave’

Wearing light pink slides in her hair and sporting dark pink glasses, Gabriella spent most of the press conference first slicing and then eating a homecoming cake.

She speaks very little English, but responded to a question in Farsi about her favourite type of cake — chocolate.

“She’s shy and bit traumatised. There is a language problem,” Ratcliffe said, but said they were able to understand each other.

Gabriella’s first request was to visit a toy shop, and to have a bed with designs on from Disney movie “Frozen”.

She has returned to London to start school, although this is not likely to happen for a few weeks as she settles in.

“She’s been very brave. We’ll take it one day at a time,” her father said, adding: “It’s just lovely to have her back.” — AFP

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