Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: 'No news is bad news' ahead of end of sentence

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with an image of husband Richard and daughter Gabriella

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe when she was allowed to leave prison on furlough in Spring 2020. - Credit: Free Nazanin

"It's not impossible that a rabbit is pulled out of a hat, but at this point I think no news is bad news."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's prison sentence in Iran ends on March 7, but with less than a fortnight until then, husband Richard isn't expecting this to mean she's allowed home. 

Richard told this newspaper: "I would have expected to be getting some indication that things are moving."

Nazanin has been detained in Iran since 2016, accused of spying. She has always denied this, and supporters have fought for the government to acknowledge that her imprisonment - and that of others with British ties - amounts to hostage-taking.

Last week, the UK announced its support for a Canada-led initiative condemning arbitrary detention, and Richard welcomed this but said he is looking for more to be done. He said the government needs to treat hostage-taking as an international security issue.

"Let's not pretend this is something else, it isn't," he said.

Speaking to the Ham&High after meeting with Foreign Office officials, Richard said he understands the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had raised Nazanin's case in recent weeks and asked about arrangements for her release. 

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"What I'm hearing is no grounds for hope at all," he said. "We talked about what they are going to do afterwards. They were essentially saying there are options sitting on Domnic Raab's desk without spelling out what they are." 

Richard said the March 7 date is a watershed:  "If we go beyond the end of the sentence, for me, there's no fig leaf any more. If we get to March 7 without anything, then it's pretty clear the UK's strategy is not working." 

He said in Tehran Nazanin is "probably looking for a bit more hope" and is keen to plan her return to the UK. 

He added: "Nazanin wants to be talking about the logistics - how she's going to be coming home, what she'll be doing about clothes. For me, we're not quite there yet."

The UK government has always maintained it is working "at the highest levels" to resolve Nazanin's case and those of other Brits detained in Iran. 

Last week Dominic Raab said: "The practice of arbitrarily detaining individuals as leverage over another government is indefensible and the UK will not tolerate it."

Singling out Iran, Mr Raab again vowed to “leave no stone unturned” in ending the ordeal of Brits imprisoned there.