The UK government has secured the release of two prisoners, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri, after London reportedly paid a long-standing debt of nearly £400 million to Tehran on Tuesday. The payment was related to the sale of battle tanks to the Shah prior to the Islamic Revolution in 1979, a deal London failed to honor after the Shah’s government was replaced by that of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Zaghari Ratcliffe spent almost six years in prison. She boarded an Iranian plane to travel towards Muscat. There she will take a chartered British government jet for Oxfordshire. Her passport was returned to her over the weekend, according to her family’s lawyer Hojjat Kermani, and Tehran confirmed both she and Ashouri have been released.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a former Reuters project manager, was arrested in April 2016 on charges of “To overthrow Islam’s regime.” After spending most of her sentence in Evin prison in Tehran, she was released in March 2020 to serve the rest under house arrest during the Covid-19 pandemic and spent the following two years confined to her parents’ home with an electronic ankle monitor. However, upon her expected release from house arrest last March, she was subsequently summoned to court and convicted of “Propaganda against the regime.”
Ashouri was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on charges of spying for Israel and another two years for “acquiring illegitimate wealth”. However, the court took pity on him due to his “Age and physical health,” according to judiciary spokesman Zabihollah Khodayian, letting him go ahead of schedule.
Morad Tahbaz (a third dual citizen) was released on furlough, but his exit from Iran is not secured.
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While neither Tehran nor London has directly confirmed the payment of the debt was directly related to the prisoners’ release, state media have previously claimed they would be released after the sum originally paid to British military contractor International Military Services Ltd. was turned over. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss credited “British diplomats are creative and tenacious” for the pair’s release, citing “Years of dedication and hard work by our talented diplomats,” in particular “Intensive efforts were made during the last six-months.”
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