British Nationals Freed from Iranian Prisons

British Nationals Freed from Iranian Prisons

Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who held dual citizenship in Britain and Iran, were convicted in Iran of espionage charges.


The British government announced on Wednesday that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, two British-Iranian dual citizens imprisoned in Iran for alleged espionage charges, have been released and have left the country, according to Reuters.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced on Twitter that the two British nationals would return to the United Kingdom immediately. Truss also announced that Morad Tahbaz, a British conservationist arrested for espionage after photographing endangered animals in Iran, had also been released.


“We will continue to work to secure Morad’s departure from Iran,” Truss wrote.

British prime minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “pleased” by the development.

“The UK has worked intensively to secure their release and I am delighted they will be reunited with their families and loved ones,” he said.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a journalist associated with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in Tehran in April 2016 after traveling to Iran to visit her family for Nowruz (Iranian New Year) celebrations. She was later convicted of attempting to overthrow the Iranian government in relation to her connection to the BBC’s Persian-language news service, which Tehran has characterized as a foreign propaganda network. 

Antonio Zappulla, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, described her freedom as a “ray of light and hope.”

“We cannot wait to have her back with us … whenever she is ready,” he wrote.

Ashoori, a 67-year-old retired civil engineer, was convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency in 2019 and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Iranian officials indicated that he had been released on compassionate grounds, “due to his age and physical condition.”

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said that the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Ashoori was not tied to Britain’s resolution of a £400 million ($520 million) debt to Iran from the 1970s. The government of the Shah, Iran’s monarch prior to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, had ordered and paid for 1,500 Chieftain tanks from the United Kingdom, but had received fewer than two hundred before his overthrow. The British government later refused to honor the contract or return the money to the new government, noting that it had refused to pay the Shah’s foreign debts.

“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,” Abdollahian insisted.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters.