British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori has finally been reunited with his family after suffering a “long and cruel separation” in which he was detained in Iran since 2017.
Ashoori, who was released alongside Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, arrived back in the UK shortly after 1am following his release from Iran early on Wednesday (16 March).
Who is Anoosheh Ashoori?
Ashoori, 67, is a British-Iranian businessman and retired engineer who spent 10 years in the UK between 1972 and 1982 whilst he was studying mechanical and aeronautical engineering.
Ashoori had plans to pursue a PhD, however these were abandoned after he travelled back to Iran when his father fell ill.
During this time, he took on his family’s construction business, called Techno Khallagh, developing something called “Roofix”, which is a product designed to build earthquake-resistant homes, schools and mosques.
Ashoori received a Gold Award from Abbas Akhoundi, who was the then housing minister, for Roofix in the mid-1990s.
In 2005, Ashoori made his way back to the UK, where he looked to expand his business abroad, and also for his children’s education - Ashoori has two children, Elika and Aryan, and is married to Sherry Izadi.
What happened in Iran?
In August 2017, Ashoori was arrested by Iranian authorities whilst visiting his mother in Tehran.
According to Amnesty International, Ashoori said that after confirming his identity, he was forced into a car, ordered to wear a blindfold and was taken to an unknown location. Later that day, he was taken back to his mother’s house where intelligence agents collected his mobile phone, computer, wallet and passports before transferring him to Evin prison.
He was held in solitary confinement for six weeks, until 25 September 2017, where he was repeatedly interrogated without a lawyer present.
Ashoori has said that while he was being questioned, his interrogators said that his family in the UK was under surveillance, and that he was forced to sign a number of documents - including “confessions”, under torture and distress.
He also detailed his experience with being denied sleep, where his interrogators would give him 50 blank pages of paper at midnight, and ordered to fill them out by 8am, listing all the possible reasons why he had been detained. He was told that he would face consequences if he failed to do so.
Afterwards, in the morning, he would then be taken again for interrogation.
Between September and November in 2017, Ashoori was moved a number of times to different sections within Evin prison. On 21 November, he reported being moved out of Evin prison and taken to a detention facility where he was held for two weeks and interrogated, without access to a lawyer.
In December, Ashoori returned to Evin prison, after having faced threats to be killed “without a trace”.
What was he charged with?
In 2018, Ashoori was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “cooperating with a hostile state against the Islamic Republic” and a further two years for obtaining 33,000 euros in “illicit funds”, charges which Ashoori denied.
Based on documents seen by Amnesty International, “the court relied on incriminating statements and “confessions” in its verdict, which Anoosheh Ashoori said were coerced and obtained under torture”.
In 2019, Gholamhossein Esmaili, the spokesperson for Iran’s judiciary, said that Ashoori was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “spying” and an additional two years for “obtaining illicit funds”.
Esmaili alleged that Ashoori had been “connected to Israel’s Mossad Spy agency” and that he had “relayed a lot of intelligence” to Mossad about Iran.
What was it like in Evin prison?
Writing for the Guardian, Ashoori detailed his experiences in Evin prison, which he described as “in the valley of hell”.
Ashoori wrote that the “test is trying to find ways to remain sane” in Evin, and that he tries “to spend most of time away from gossip and trouble by reading and studying”, because “in such crowded conditions, arguments can easily escalate into serious confrontation”.
He wrote that he and his fellow prisoners are “continuously fighting against cockroaches, rats and bed bugs”.
In his piece, Ashoori reflects on his previously held attitudes about Evin prison, having, in the past, passed by Evin to dine in upscale restaurants situated on the other side of the hill on which the prison stands.
“Like many other ordinary Iranian citizens, I remained indifferent, and never wanted to know what was going on behind its walls,” He wrote.
“I did not want to disturb the relative comfort of my life. Most people say to themselves: “I am not seeking trouble and abiding by the law, and therefore I should be immune from any harm.”
“But do not think that remaining indifferent when confronted repeatedly by injustice guarantees you from remaining unharmed.”
He ends the article with a passage from the Persian poet Saadi, which, in English, reads:
“All human beings are members of one frame,
“Since all, at first, from the same essence came.
“When time afflicts a limb with pain
“The other limbs at rest cannot remain.
“If thou feel not for others’ misery
“A human being is no name for thee.”
Why has he been released?
On 16 March, alongside fellow British-Iraian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who had also been detained in Iran since 2016, Ashoori was released from prison and has arrived back in the UK.
The reason for Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release has been linked to the UK’s payment to Tehran of an outstanding £400 million debt, which dated back to before the Islamic Revolution.
However, the Iranian Government has denied that this is the reason for their release, and it has been speculated that other factors that contributed to their release included campaigning for their freedom, and that relations between London and Tehran are better than they have been.
Johnson tweeted: “I am very pleased to confirm that the unfair detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori in Iran has ended today, and they will now return to the UK.
“The UK has worked intensively to secure their release and I am delighted they will be reunited with their families and loved ones.”
Responding to Ashoori’s release, his family said: “This day has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in bringing Anoosheh home.
“1,672 days ago our family’s foundations were rocked when our father and husband was unjustly detained and taken away from us.
“Now we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place.”
Regarding the debt, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahain, told reporters in Tehran that the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori had nothing to do with the payment.
He said: “I announce explicitly that there is no connection between the release of this sum and these people who were arrested and tried in Iran for espionage and security reasons.”
A message from the editor: Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.