Jailed Briton Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released from prison for three days, it was announced on Thursday.
The British-Iranian citizen has been detained by Iranian authorities since 2016 for allegedly seeking to overthrow the government. Her husband, Richard, said she was released from Evin prison on Thursday morning until Sunday, and has been reunited with her family, including her young daughter, Gabriella, 4.
Although the initial release is for three days, her lawyer is hopeful that this can be extended, her husband said.
Pictures showing the mother and daughter together have been shared by the Free Nazanin Campaign.
Speaking about the reunion, Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, said in a statement: “We can play with her dolls’ house, and she can show me her toys.
“The thought of brushing her hair, and giving her a bath, of being able to take her to the park, and feed her, and sleep next to her – it just kills me. It is still so hard to believe.
“I wasn’t expecting it at all when it was mentioned two weeks ago. I didn’t tell Gabriella or, for a long time, my mum – so if it didn’t happen I would be the
only one to suffer.”
The imprisoned Brit was called on Thursday morning while she was still in her night clothes and told that she had 10 minutes to get ready because she was being released, the Free Nazanin Campaign said.
She was not allowed to call her family from prison but was told that she could call them from the gate.
However, when she got there she was told that the phones were not working.
She was asked not to wait outside the prison, and so crossed over to a nearby bridge, where she asked the member of another family waiting if she could borrow their phone to call her brother, who had stayed in Tehran, her husband said.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s brother arrived within 10 minutes, and she called her husband afterwards.
Richard Ratcliffe said: “Despite the build up, today was a genuine surprise after all the disappointments.
“We have been burned by hope before, so it had been easier to presume disappointment would come again.
“But it didn’t – she is outside those prison walls. And we are all so pleased.”
The British Embassy has been informed of her release.
After meeting her father and brother she travelled to Damavand, where she was reunited with her daughter and the rest of her family.
Gabriella had picked some flowers from the family garden to give to her mother, who she has been separated from for two years.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who arrived in time to join the family for lunch, was able to see her aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. She was particularly emotional when she saw her grandmother.
“I cried so much. I felt so overwhelmed. My dad’s home is not my home – but it is so much better than prison,” she said.
“People in the ward were so excited – they sang songs and danced. I baked for them in celebration. It felt like this really could be the beginning of the end.”
The family’s lawyer said that on Saturday he will request an extension for
Under the conditions of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s temporary release she is not allowed to conduct any media interviews, visit the grounds of any foreign embassy and should not attempt to leave the country.
However, she is allowed to travel outside of the family home.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has welcomed the “really good news”, but called for her to be permanently released.
Richard Ratcliffe thanked Hunt and all those involved in the UK and Iran in helping to secure his wife’s release.
“I have been very critical in the past – I may need to be critical again. But today is a good day, hopefully the turn of a new leaf as well as stone. It happened thanks to the personal care of the many people involved in Tehran, London and around the world,” Ratcliffe said.
“Furlough is not full freedom – we want her home, not just on holiday from
prison – but it is still such a good step.
“I promised Nazanin I will keep campaigning until she is home in the UK, so we don’t get caught in some limbo of house arrest. But after 873 days it is a massive step. And we owe a thank you to everyone who has carried us this far.
“There is a play about Nazanin currently at the Edinburgh fringe which I am
due to see tomorrow. It ends with one of Gabriella’s favourite songs, Incey
Wincey spider, as our shortened life story.
“But maybe the sunshine has finally come out, and there might be no need to climb up the spout again.”
Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, welcomed Nazanin’s release.
She said: “This is a an incredible moment. Huge relief for my constituent. After two and a half years imprisonment, I can’t imagine to begin to imagine how precious these three days with Gabriella will be for Nazanin.
“Until Nazanin returns to her life in West Hampstead the campaign goes on. As their MP, I will continue to support Richard and the family for as long as Nazanin remains imprisoned.”
In 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from Hampstead, north London, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 after being accused of spying by Tehran’s Islamist regime.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has consistently denied all allegations, insisting she was on holiday to introduce her daughter to family.
Monique Villa, Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO, said: “We see this as a positive sign and hope that this will lead to her permanent release and an end to her traumatic ordeal for good. Nazanin and her family have waited long enough for justice.
“It fills my heart with joy to see pictures of her holding her daughter Gabriella, now four years old, in her arms. What’s missing in the picture is Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, whose courage and strength throughout has been inspirational. I can only hope they are reunited as soon as possible. I have just spoken with Richard, and he is overjoyed and filled with hope.”
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said: “This has gone on far too long. Nazanin is a prisoner of conscience who should never have been jailed in the first place. She should be freed once and for all and allowed to travel back to the UK with her young daughter Gabriella.”