Coronavirus crisis brings ‘window of opportunity’ that could help free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, says Richard

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released on a temporary furlough amid the coronavirus crisis. Pic

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released on a temporary furlough amid the coronavirus crisis. Picture: Free Nazanin - Credit: Archant

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard thinks the coronavirus crisis “has created a window of opportunity” for the UK government to push to bring his wife home.

Richard Ratcliffe is reunited with his daughter Gabriella. Picture: Free Nazanin Campaign

Richard Ratcliffe is reunited with his daughter Gabriella. Picture: Free Nazanin Campaign - Credit: Archant

In the four years since Nazanin’s April 3 2016 arrest, she has been separated from her family and and used as a bargaining chip in Iran’s negotiations to settle a historic £450m debt owed by the UK govenrment.

But Nazanin was given a furlough – temporary release - from prison on March 17, and the last fortnight has been the longest she has spent outside of prison since her arrest.

As such, and with another British-Iranian dual-national released by the Iranian regime this week, this April 3 brings with it more optimism than in years past.

Richard Ratcliffe, told this newspaper: “This is an obviously improved existence for Nazanin. She can call, she can watch TV, she can chat with her parents. But there’s still the tag.

“There’s quite a lot of ambiguity.”

Richard explained that planning how the family’s campaign would continue was tricky, as Nazanin’s future was anything but clear.

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“In a fortnight, she could be put back in prison. She could be home. She could be stuck where she is for quite a long time, too,” he said.

“We can wait for a bit, but then you realise what you are waiting for might not be materialising.”

The West Hampstead resident added that Mr Foroughi’s release “felt positive” for Nazanin’s case.

He said: “The wider climate is positive. THere was a German who was released, then we have had Kamal Foroughi. He’s the first Brit in quite some time I can remember coming home. It doesn’t track directly onto Nazanin’s case, but it’s a good sign. It shows people are being released.”

Richard continued: “Nazanin was really uplifted. We all were.

“It’s lovely for their family to be back together. It gives hope to the rest of us.”

While Nazanin is unable to leave her parents’ Tehran home, her family in the UK are also adjusting to coronavirus-caused lockdown. Richard said it had been difficult for the couple’s daughter Gabriella, 5. He said: “She had just about got into the rhythym of going to school and of feeling that she belongs to the community, so it’s been hard. But since Nazanin has come out, Gabriella has really been excited to speak to her on the phone. She’ll take it off and show Nazanin this and that. It’s always ‘daddy is being unfair’.”

As for the anniversary itself, referring to the “ups and downs” of four years which have seen Nazanin repeatedly denied medical treatment, intimidated by interrogators and kept for extensive periods in solitary confinement Richard said: “We are in a much nicer place than we were four years ago, even a year ago, or in January. For me it’s also a reminder of all the care that has been out there, but for Nazanin it’s a reminder of the horrendous difficult times in solitary right at the beginning.”

Amnesty International UK also marked the date. The charity’s director Kate Allen said it was “bitterly disappointing” and added: “Hopes for Nazanin’s release have been raised only to be dashed over and over again - an utterly draining experience for Nazanin and her family.”

The charity has also reiterated its demand for Nazanin to be returned to the UK as soon as restrictions on travel amid the coronavirus pandemic allow.

As for how things may play out in the coming weeks, Richard wants to see more positive signs in April and May.

He said: “I would be very surprised if she’s on a plane next week, we need something else positive to happen.

“She’ll either be out in six or seven weeks, or we’ll be looking at something else having gone wrong.

“At this point, we’re not letting our guard down. She’s still under house arrest, and clearly there’s a Sword of Damocles over her with furlough only being extended two weeks at a time.

“These are baby steps, but they could be steps towards a solution.”