A brief history of a West Hampstead family's nightmare

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and daughter Gabriella

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with husband Richard and daughter Gabriella - Credit: Ratcliffe family/@tulipsiddiq

A freed West Hampstead mum is mercifully home after six years detained in Iran - a mighty battle for her, her husband and her young daughter.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was seized by security services at Tehran’s airport with her 22-month-old daughter Gabriella as they were returning to the UK after visiting relatives on April 3 2016.

She was sentenced to five years in jail, spending four in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

She was later sentenced to a further one year plus a one-year travel ban, prompting fears she would be sent back to prison.

Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign Office, campaigning for the release from Iran of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Richard Ratcliffe, on day 20 of his hunger strike outside the Foreign Office, campaigning for the release from Iran of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Credit: Georgina McCartney

She flew out of Tehran landing in HMS Brize Norton Airport in Oxfordshire in the early hours of March 17 and and into the arms of her husband and child. 

A rough timeline of coverage by the Ham&High reports Nazanin spent her first weeks in solitary confinement, prohibited from access to a lawyer, from seeing her daughter, or speaking to her husband.

Gabriella's British passport was seized and she was looked after by her grandparents.

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Just over a month later Richard launched a petition, which gained 54,200 signatures within days, calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to bring his wife and baby daughter home.

Handing in a 700,000-signature petition to Downing Street in May 2016, Richard accused ministers of failing to mention his wife’s plight in three key meetings with Iranian officials.

He said: “What I want is the obvious – I want the government to do all it can – across its full range of interactions - to bring Nazanin and Gabriella home. What that means exactly, what can be done, I don’t know – but 50 days is long enough."

Demonstrators line up directly opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and call for both Theres

Demonstrators line up directly opposite the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and call for both Theresa May and Boris Johnson to take some action. - Credit: Archant

The West Hampstead community rallied behind the family, holding vigils, tying yellow ribbons to trees and marching to Whitehall with buggies and banners.

Calling for a birthday card appeal for his daughter, who would spend her second birthday with neither parent, Richard told the Ham&High: “Nazanin’s and Gabriella’s confinement can be all wrapped up in the complexities of Iranian politics and UK diplomacy."

Supporters of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other UK citizens detained abroad signed a card for Prim

Supporters of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other UK citizens detained abroad signed a card for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

In September 2016, a judge passed the five-year sentence without revealing the charges on which Nazanin was being held and committed her to the high security wing of the notorious Evin Prison.

A month later, Nazanin was dragged back to court and told new charges had been brought by the Revolutionary Guard that could see the charity worker jailed for 16 more years.

By then Richard believed his wife was being held as a bargaining tool. These fears increased by a revelation that the British government was embroiled in a row with the Iranian government who accused them of owing £400m over some Chieftain tanks.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “However ruthless the Iranian actions, allowing Nazanin to be treated this way, the continuing silence over her fate - holds a mirror up to the UK.”

A protest banner for Nazanin and Gabriella

A protest banner for Nazanin and Gabriella - Credit: Archant

In November Richard revealed that she had written her family a “goodbye letter” from her cell and after five days of refusing to eat.

Nazanin went months without seeing her daughter.

She launched appeals against her sentences and lost.

She suffered multiple panic attacks and undertook hunger strikes.

She was dragged back to court in 2017 following Boris Johnson, then foreign minister, mistakenly telling a group of MPs she was in Iran training journalists.

Iranian Judiciary’s High Council for Human Rights claimed that Mr Johnson’s comments were proof that Nazanin was not in Iran on holiday.

Richard went on hunger strike in solidarity with his wife, and then again last year to force the government to listen.

In August 2018, Nazanin was temporarily released from prison after 873 days, and was reunited with her four-year-old daughter but days later she was ordered to return to Evin where she collapsed.

The same year Theresa May called on Iran to release Nazanin.

In 2019 Nazanin was finally allowed external medical treatment and Gabriella returned to the UK.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially ignored requests from Richard.

In March 2020, Nazanin was furloughed when Covid swept through the prison and she was placed under house arrest.

Gabriella Ratcliffe

Gabriella Ratcliffe knocked on the door at Number 10 - Credit: Sally Patterson

There were more court summons and appearances and the constant threat of jail. In December 2021 Gabriella knocked on the door of 10 Downing Street.

Nazanin has said the ordeal "will always haunt me".