The Iranian authorities are being accused of holding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as state hostage and tying her release to a 40-year-old debt London owes Tehran.
British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in an Iranian prison since 2016 and her arrest has now kicked up a diplomatic storm between Tehran and London.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard has accused authorities of illegally arresting his wife and using her as a pawn to settle a 40-year-old debt between the British government and Tehran.
Although the British are yet to acknowledge that Zaghari-Ratcliffe's freedom was subservient to the UK paying off the $554 million debt to Iran, its Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Sunday came closer to accepting that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being held state hostage by the Iranians.
He confirmed that her fate was tied to not only the $554 million debt London owed to Tehran, but also the outcome of talks in Vienna.
The major point of contention in Vienna is over which portions of the sanctions the US will agree to lift against Iran. Other problems are whether Tehran will show any will in reciprocating, and taking steps to satisfy the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA.
The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed that his country was doing “everything we can” to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe from captivity by Iranian authorities.
Iran arrested the British-Iranian aid worker, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, at the airport in April 2016. She had been in Tehran after visiting family with her daughter.
She was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.
Just a few weeks after she finished her five-year sentence, an Iranian court sentenced Zaghari-Ratcliffe to another year in prison and a one-year ban from leaving the country was added for the propaganda against the Islamic System.
Zaghari is currently free on bail, but there is little freedom for her, for she has been living under house arrest for over a year. Her feet are tied with electronic shackles and she cannot move more than 300 metres away from her father’s home in Tehran.
Her lawyer will file a protest within the time stated by law.
The Iranian court recently gave a new verdict on her detention, extending her imprisonment by another year. The UK government was quick to condemn the court decision, calling it "inhumane".
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "This is a totally inhumane and wholly unjustified decision."
Earlier, Prime Minister Johnson told reporters: "I don't think it's right at all that Nazanin should be sentenced to any more time in jail."
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said on Monday that the “arbitrary” detention of British dual nationals should be separated from ongoing legal disputes with Iran.
“We have always said that British dual nationals should not be used as political leverage,” Cleverly said.
“The Iranian regime have used disinformation - we're hearing inaccurate reports.”
“It is in the hands of the Tehran regime to release these people and they should be released,” he added.
Iran reportedly demands more than half a billion dollars in exchange for releasing the activist from imprisonment.
The state broadcaster of the Islamic Republic of Iran, quoting an anonymous source from the state officials, claimed a deal could be reached if Britain would pay £400 million($554 million) to Iran.
Iranian TV also claimed that PM Johnson’s government agreed to pay the money over the non-delivery of tanks dating back to the 1970s.
However, Cleverly has said, “We have also seen a number of occasions where the Iranian regime have used disinformation. We’re hearing inaccurate reports coming out over the last couple of days,” after the reports came in over the money.
A British parliamentarian also tweeted there is no confirmation about the UK’s approval to pay the debt.
I am aware there are news reports circulating about the debt being paid to #FreeNazanin. I have spoken to her family and they have heard nothing confirming any of these rumours.— Tulip Siddiq (@TulipSiddiq) May 2, 2021
Britain owes the money after the Shah paid up front for 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other vehicles, almost none of which were eventually delivered after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 toppled the US-backed leader.