Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori released: Iran detainees arrive back home in UK - latest

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugged and kissed her daughter, 7, while Mr Ashoori’s family sobbed

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were reunited with their families in the early hours of Thursday (17 March) after a “long and cruel separation” caused by their detention in Iran.

The pair arrived at RAF Brize Norton at just after 1am after finally securing their release from Iran early on Wednesday.

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Video shared on social media showed Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugging and kissing her young daughter, while Mr Ashoori’s family sobbed.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained for six years after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

Mr Ashoori, 67, who was detained in Evin prison for almost five years, was accused of spying.

Both have consistently denied the allegations.

What happened when they were reunited with their families?

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe waved to the cameras as she disembarked from the plane, while Mr Ashoori gave a salute and a peace sign.

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In an emotional video shared on Instagram by Mr Ashoori’s daughter Elika, the family sobbed as they greeted him.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter Gabriella, 7, was heard asking “is that mummy?” and again shouted “mummy” as her mother walked down the plane’s stairs.

Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband who has tirelessly campaigned for her release, shook Mr Ashoori’s hand as Gabriella appeared to run towards her mother.

She then carried the little girl in her arms as they were surrounded by other family members.

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Mr Ashoori was then reunited with his family, who were in tears as they embraced. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe then appeared in the video and hugged and kissed her daughter, and asked her “do I smell nice?” before holding her hands.

She also hugged members of the Ashoori family.

What has the reaction been to the pair being released?

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq - who has consistently campaigned for her release - shared an image of the British-Iranian national embracing her husband and daughter.

The caption read: “This picture makes me so happy and so proud of all 3 of my brave constituents. Thank you everyone for your constant support for this incredible family. #NazaninIsFree”

Timeline of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran (NationalWorld / Mark Hall)Timeline of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran (NationalWorld / Mark Hall)
Timeline of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in Iran (NationalWorld / Mark Hall) | NationalWorld / Mark Hall

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said “yesterday was a good day at work” as he shared a photo of both returned Britons with their families.

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Sharing photographs from the flight on Twitter, Stephanie Al-Qaq, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign Office, said there was “relief and joy” as the British-Iranians and officials left Tehran.

While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was also seen in Ms Ashoori’s video waiting for the pair’s arrival, said: “People are in very, very good spirits.”

Speaking at Brize Norton after the arrival, she said: “I think it’s been a really difficult 48 hours, the expectation that they would be released, but we weren’t sure right until the last moment.

“It’s been very emotional, but also a really happy moment for the families, and I’m pleased to say that both Nazanin and Anoosheh are in good spirits and they’re safe and well back here in Britain.”

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Asked whether Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori thanked her following their return, Ms Truss said: “Well, I thank them and I thank the families for how stoical they’ve been during this really, really difficult period.

“And we talked about the process that we’ve been through, the difficult last part of making sure that they were able to leave Iran but it’s so fantastic to welcome them back safe and well here in Britain.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, speaking on a visit to Saudi Arabia, said: “It is fantastic news that Nazanin is out.

“I am thrilled also for Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz who are also out.

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“It has been a lot of work by a lot of people. I want to pay particular tribute to her husband Richard.

“It is fantastic that she will be able to come back, see her family, see her daughter Gabriella.”

Why was Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained in Iran?

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran from 2016 until Wednesday (16 March).

She was arrested at Tehran Airport on charges of plotting to overthrow the government – allegations she has always denied - and sentenced to five years in jail.

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Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent four years in Evin prison and one year under house arrest.

She was also sentenced to another year’s confinement in April 2021 on charges of “spreading propaganda”.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention has been linked to the UK’s failure to pay a £400 million debt relating to a cancelled order for 1,500 Chieftain tanks dating back to the 1970s.

However, that debt has now been paid back to the regime.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he had authorised the release of the funds to settle the debt.

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He said: “The UK courts and the International Court of Arbitration (ICC) subsequently confirmed that the debt was still owed to the Iranian government.

“The payment of the debt reflects the UK Government’s determination to meet that international obligation, while seeking to ensure that such funds can only be used in accordance with applicable sanctions, and domestic counter-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation, for example to purchase humanitarian goods.”

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