Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.jpg
Nazanin Zaghari

(1978-12-26) 26 December 1978 (age 42)
Tehran, Iran
United Kingdom (2013-present)[1]
OccupationJournalism charity administrator
Known forCurrent imprisonment in Iran (July 2019)
Spouse(s)Richard Ratcliffe

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (née Zaghari, Persian: نازنین زاغری‎; born 26 December 1978[2]) is an Iranian-British dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016. In early September 2016 she was sentenced to five years' imprisonment after being found guilty of "plotting to topple the Iranian government".[3][4] She was temporarily released on 17 March 2020.[5]

The prosecutor general of Tehran had stated in October 2017 that she was being held for running "a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran".[6]

Early life[edit]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was born and raised in Tehran and studied English literature at the University of Tehran, before becoming an English teacher. Following the 2003 Bam earthquake she worked as a translator in the relief effort for the Japan International Cooperation Agency. She later worked for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and then moved to the World Health Organization as a communications officer.[7]

In 2007, Zaghari-Ratcliffe moved to the UK after receiving a scholarship to study for a Masters in Communication Management at London Metropolitan University. Shortly after her arrival in the UK she met her future husband through mutual friends. They married in August 2009 in Winchester and their daughter was born in June 2014. Zaghari-Ratcliffe would frequently return to Iran enabling her parents to see her daughter.[8] When travelling to Iran she would always do so on her Iranian passport, as required by Iranian law. Zaghari-Ratcliffe used her British passport for all other international travel.[9]

In 2011, Zaghari-Ratcliffe began working at the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2011 as a project co-ordinator before taking on the role of a project manager.[10]

Arrest and trial[edit]

On 17 March 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe travelled to visit her family for Nowruz (Iranian New Year) with her 22-month-old daughter. On 3 April 2016, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard arrested her at the Imam Khomeini Airport as she and her daughter were about to board a flight back to the UK.[11][12] Her daughter's British passport was confiscated during the arrest, but later returned, and she remained in Iran under the care of her maternal grandparents so she could visit her mother.[3][13]

The exact reason for her arrest was initially unclear, though according to Amnesty International it is believed to be related to the 2014 imprisonment of several Iranian technology news website employees. The head of Kerman province's justice department, Ali Tavakoli, said they had participated in projects run by the BBC and received funds from London:

"This gang was running a number of projects and plans for anti-revolutionary Iranians based abroad, especially for the BBC Persian, under the guise of legitimate activities. Financial aid for this group was usually provided from London under the pretext of charitable donations. The director of the team was an individual who has served the BBC as a mentor and teacher in a number of countries such as Malaysia, India and Afghanistan and his travels to these countries were paid for by British intelligence services."[14]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has worked for the BBC World Service Trust (now called BBC Media Action),[15] an international charity that provided training courses to Iranian citizen journalists and bloggers in its Iran Media Development Project's ZigZag magazine and associated radio programme.[16] In 2014, several graduates were convicted and sentenced by Iran to up to 11 years in jail for their participation in these courses.[17][18]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe worked for the BBC World Service Trust between February 2009 and October 2010, "in a junior capacity as a Training Assistant" according to the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, before moving to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.[6][19] BBC Media Action described her role as "junior and purely administrative".[20]

According to Yadollah Movahed, the head of the Justice Department in the Iranian city of Kerman, and as reported by the Iranian news network Press TV, Nazanin was arrested "over her involvement in post-election riots that engulfed Tehran and some other cities in 2009".[21] Movahed said Zaghari was among the suspects who "conducted activities against the security of the country by designing websites and carrying out campaigns in the media” during 2009. According to Movahed, Nazanin was not arrested for activity inside Iran or for activity during her 2016 holiday to Iran: “Some members of the group were outside Iran, including the suspect Nazanin Zaghari”.[21] Mashregh News, an outlet close to Iranian authorities, pointed to her alleged involvement with the human rights organizations Women Living Under Muslim Laws and Hivos as a motive for her arrest.[22]

According to Press TV in June 2016, "The IRGC headquarters in Kerman province announced that Nazanin Zaghari had been identified after a large intelligence operation. She was one of the liaison officers of networks hostile to Iran abroad. According to this source, she was responsible for several missions, and conducted her criminal activities under the direction of media and intelligence services of foreign governments."[23]

In early September 2016, she was sentenced to five years in prison "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime."[3][4] The prosecutor general of Tehran stated in October 2017 that she was imprisoned for running "...a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran".[6] PressTV in 2017 reported she had been "found guilty of spying and spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic",[24] describing the activities involved as her BBC World Service Trust work:

She identified potential Iranian recruits and invited them to attend the training courses, received and reviewed their resumes, managed financial affairs related to the courses in Malaysia and India, picked trainers, assessed the performance of the participants and managed the ZigZag Academy’s websites.[24]


On 23 August 2018, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released on temporary licence for three days, which is standard practice prior to lengthier releases.[25] However, Zaghari-Ratcliffe suffered from panic attacks after returning to prison, and regretted having been given the temporary release. Her husband said the temporary licence was a "cruel game" subject to conditions including the monitoring of her movements.[26]

In March 2019, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) granted Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection, raising the status of her case from a consular matter to a dispute between the two governments.[27] Iran argues the designation is contrary to international law, the Master Nationality Rule, with Iran's ambassador in London stating "Governments may only exercise such protection for own nationals, ... Iran does not recognise dual nationality".[28]

On 11 October 2019, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's daughter returned to her father in the United Kingdom to start school.[29]

In December 2019, the prosecutor general of Iran denied conditional release for Nazanin Zaghari, which was requested by her lawyer.[30]

At the height of COVID-19 pandemic in Iran in March 2020, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released on a temporary basis.[31] She is living at her parents’ house in Tehran, and must wear an electronic tag and remain within 300 metres of the house. She is able to make video calls for several hours a day to her husband and daughter.[32] Her parole was extended until 18 April.[33] Her release was again extended in April, to 20 May according to her husband.[34] Her family said on May 20 that her release had been extended indefinitely.[35]

On 8 September 2020, Iranian state media said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was facing new charges.[36] On 13 September, her trial was postponed.[37] It was scheduled for 2 November in October.[38] No British officials were allowed to observe it despite repeated requests.[39]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's sentence is due to end on 7 March 2021.[40]

Prisoners swap dispute[edit]

24th April 2019, Iranian Foreign Minister suggested an official swap between Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian citizen being held in Australia on a U.S. extradition warrant. Britain has rejected a prisoner-swap proposal by Iran's foreign minister, calling it a "vile" diplomatic maneuver. [41]

Release campaign[edit]

On 7 May 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe launched an online petition[42] urging both the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Iran's supreme leader to take appropriate action to secure the safe return of his wife and daughter. The petition now has over 3.5 million supporters in 155 countries. Through his lawyers, Richard Ratcliffe has pressed for any settlement of the IMS deal to be paid to an entity other than the Iranian Government's defence ministry,[43] alternatively that the dispute be settled in humanitarian aide rather than cash, thereby circumventing EU sanctions.[44] 24th April 2019, the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested an official swap between Nazanin, and Negar Ghodskani, an Iranian citizen being held in Australia on a U.S. extradition warrant.[45]

Boris Johnson intervention[edit]

On 1 November 2017, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said "When we look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it, at the very limit."[46] These remarks appear to have put her at risk, prompting condemnation from politicians across the spectrum including Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, leading to calls for Boris Johnson to be sacked.[47] A central part of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's defence was that she was there on a holiday and never worked to train journalists in the country.[48]

Her employer, Thomson Reuters Foundation, called on Johnson to "immediately correct the serious mistake he made" in this statement. They added "She is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the Thomson Reuters Foundation". Four days later, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was returned to court in Iran where the Foreign Secretary's statement was cited as evidence against her.[49][50]

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was thought likely to appear in court again on 10 December 2017 to face additional charges relating to her work for the BBC World Service Trust;[51][52] however, Iranian court officials released a statement that no new charges had been raised and these reports were false.[53] Boris Johnson visited Tehran on 9 December 2017, raising the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.[54]

United Nations[edit]

The United Nations has on several occasions called for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release. On 7 October 2016, the United Nations rapporteur on human rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, called on Iran to immediately release Zaghari-Ratcliffe.[55] The call was repeated a year later by Shaheed's successor, Asma Jahangir, as well as by José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: "We consider that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been arbitrarily deprived of her liberty and that her right to a fair trial before an independent and impartial tribunal has been violated … These are flagrant violations of Iran’s obligations under international law".[56] The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had also formally called for her immediate release in its Opinion 28/2016, adopted in August 2016.[56]

Further calls for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release have been made by the US Congress, the Canadian Parliament,[57] and the European Parliament.[58]

Hunger strike[edit]

In June 2019, both Richard and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe went on hunger strike, in protest at Nazanin's imprisonment, with Richard Ratcliffe camping outside the Iranian Embassy in London. They both ended the hunger strike on 29 June 2019, after 15 days.[59][60]

Coronavirus pandemic[edit]

In February 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Iran, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was suspected of falling ill with COVID-19 from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Her family called on the UK and Iranian governments to ensure that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was tested for the virus and received proper medical treatment.[61] However, Iran's judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said she did not have coronavirus and was in "good health". Gholamhossein also described reports of her infection as "propaganda".[62]

On 17 March, she was temporarily freed for two weeks, which was later extended indefinitely.[63][35] After her new trial was postponed in September, the Foreign Office called for her to be permanently released. Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, called it nonsense that the trial had been moved, saying she had already faced an unjust trial. She accused the Iranian government of playing cruel political games on her and asked the British government to work harder for her release.[64]

Consular assistance[edit]

In December 2020, in relation to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's imprisonment it was widely reported that British citizens arrested abroad do not have a right to government help or protection even if they are being tortured.[65][66] However, in normal circumstances, British citizens abroad are eligible for consular assistance in times of need.[67] The legal difficulty for the British Foreign Office in this particular case is that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in the country of her birth citizenship and in a country which does not recognise dual nationality for Iranian citizens. Furthermore, during her visits to Iran, Zaghari-Ratcliffe enters the country using her Iranian passport.[9] The FCDO have acknowledged the risk to dual nationals of arrest and detention in its travel advice to persons travelling to Iran.[9]

See also[edit]


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