Valerie Welcomes the Release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori

On Wednesday 16 March 2022 we received the fantastic news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will be returning home to the UK, after years of baseless detention by Iran.

I first raised Nazanin’s imprisonment by Iran at Business Questions on 8 December 2016. I asked the Leader of the House “Given that it is soon Human Rights Day, will the Leader of the House follow up on the Prime Minister’s response to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British national imprisoned in Iran? If the Foreign Secretary is too busy trying to learn who his counterparts are, perhaps we can ask the United States, which signed that agreement with Iran. We need the Human Rights Act to protect basic freedoms—every day, everywhere.”

In June 2019, I visited Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe at his first hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy and promised to raise Nazanin’s detention each week at Business Questions in my role as Shadow Leader of the House. I kept that promise, and challenged the Government every Thursday to set out what action it was taking to secure Nazanin’s release. 

In response to the statement by the Foreign Secretary on Wednesday 16 March 2022, I said:

“Can I start by thanking the Foreign Secretary for all her work and her Minister, who answered all the Urgent Questions, and all the officials at the FCDO, throughout the six years. I know my honourable friends the Members for Hampstead and Kilburn and Lewisham East are delighted to get their constituents back, but none more so than the Ratcliffe family, the wider Ratcliffe family who we all met on Richard’s hunger strike, and Anoosheh’s family, they are pleased to get them back.

Morad Tahbaz, actually his birth certificate which I’ve seen, he was born in Hammersmith, so I hope we can make extra efforts. But I’d like to ask the Foreign Secretary if she will ensure that Mehran Raoof, even though he may not have asked for help, that he’s not forgotten.

But Mr Speaker, this was House business, and the House is delighted that Nazanin and Anoosheh are back in the loving arms of their family.”

Environmentalist Morad Tahbaz was released from prison on furlough on 16 March, but has not been allowed to leave Iran. According to Amnesty International, labour rights activist Mehran Raoof remains in Iranian custody.

Nazanin is a former charity worker who was first arrested almost six years ago while visiting her parents in Iran. Anoosheh is a retired civil engineer who was arrested while visiting his elderly mother almost five years ago.

Richard endured a second hunger strike in November 2021. I visited Richard and his wider family at his tent outside the FCDO, and later that month spoke in a debate in Westminster Hall to encourage all those who cared for Nazanin to maintain momentum towards her release. Nazanin and Richard’s daughter Gabriella was only 22 months old when Nazanin was first detained. Anoosheh started a hunger strike from within Evin Prison in January 2022.

At Foreign Office Questions on Tuesday 25 January, I tabled a question regarding what recent progress what been made on bringing the ordeals of dual-nationals held hostage in Iran to end, and the Minister said that meetings had been held with Iranian counterparts in November 2021.

I said “Mr Speaker, can I thank the Minister for his answer, but that was November. Anoosheh Ashoori is on hunger strike, and he needs diplomatic protection. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 6 years a hostage, innocent. Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist, innocent. Mehran Raoof, a trade unionist, innocent. Will the Minister commit to working closely to United States Special Envoy Robert Malley, and bring these innocent hostages home?”

The families of Nazanin and Anoosheh have shown extraordinary courage in their resolute campaigning to free them, and they can finally now be reunited back home in the UK.