After nearly six years of being detained, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has finally been permitted to leave Iran and reunite with her husband and daughter in the UK.
The British-Iranian’s ordeal – the charity worked was tortured under erroneous charges of being a spy – was brought to an end as the UK government settled a 40-year-old debt owed to the regime in Tehran.
UK diplomacy was praised by Boris Johnson, who had himself as foreign secretary wrongly suggested Nazanin was training journalists in Iran. But many others hailed the indefatigable spirit of the 43-year-old’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe.
The accountant, 47, has fought a tenacious battle to secure her release, despite being caught between often bewildering political forces, while also being separated for years from the couple’s daughter, Gabriella, now 7.
Richard Ratcliffe worked hard to raise public profile of his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, campaigned heavily to hold govt to account and keep her in hearts & minds of British people
I honestly don’t know how he kept his sanity for 6 yrs. He never gave up
My respect to him👏🏾
— Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu (@SholaMos1) March 16, 2022
.@Jeremy_Hunt pays tribute to Truss for sealing the deal. He then commends the efforts to Richard Ratcliffe: “His quiet courage and humility never wavered through 6 years of hell. He’s the bravest person I ever met as foreign sec
— Beth Rigby (@BethRigby) March 16, 2022
Thinking back to all the occasions we looked through the glass to see Richard Ratcliffe in our green room, waiting patiently to come on the air, finding the right words amid a diplomatic minefield & personal nightmare. Last time he brought Gabriella. Finally – they get their reunion https://t.co/Bnz26T0x6X
— Mishal Husain (@MishalHusain) March 16, 2022
Thinking of this guy right now. What a day for him and his family, and what a remarkable campaign he fought for so long to ensure nobody forgot about his wife. Absolutely thrilled for you, Richard Ratcliffe. 👏👏 pic.twitter.com/GievPTBPH1
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 16, 2022
Here are some of the reasons why he has been hailed a hero.
Richard Ratcliffe’s 21-day hunger strike at Westminster – having exhausted other avenues after five-and-a-half years of campaigning – was the best illustration of his dedication and courage.
In November last year, Ratcliffe ended his protest outside the Foreign Office in central London – sleeping in a tent – having been visited by supporters including Strictly Come Dancing co-host Claudia Winkleman and Labor leader Keir Starmer. Ratcliffe criticized Prime Minister Johnson for his “telling” absence in talking to him during the protest.
SOPA Images via Getty Images
With fears of permanent damage to his health growing, Ratcliffe said he had promised Gabriella he would end the hunger strike, adding their child “needs two parents”. “I didn’t want to go out in an ambulance,” he said. “I want to walk out with my head held high.”
Ignoring advice to stay quiet
While few in the UK will now be unaware of the efforts to free Nazanin, Ratcliffe had to fight to get the public to take notice. In May 2016, he made his first plea via the media after Nazanin had been in solitary confinement for 36 days. Ratcliffe said his family had decided to go public against the advice of the Foreign Office.
Still, the government were saying little. Two months later, Ratcliffe delivered letters to Downing Street for outgoing prime minister David Cameron and his replacement Theresa May on his wife’s 100th day in custody. He said it was “astonishing” no British minister had publicly criticized Tehran.
James Manning – PA Images via Getty Images
On Wednesday, Ratcliffe said he hoped Nazanin’s homecoming would allow them to “become a normal family again”.
Speaking to broadcasters outside their home in London, he said: “The first thing (Nazanin) wanted was for me to make her a cup of tea, so we will do (that).
“I actually think we were looking at the house and it needs a bit of tidying, so there might be a bit of tidying, perhaps directed by mummy when she comes back.”
Lobbying for debt to be paid back
While Nazanin’s release appears now to have hinged on the repayment of the historic debt, the government long dismissed this was the case – despite Ratcliffe telling them otherwise.
“Nazanin’s interrogators told her five or six months into her arrest that they were astonished that this had lasted so long,” Ratcliffe insisted as he feared “we have become a bargaining chip for the Brits” in US attempts to get Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear programme.
The legal dispute dates back to the 1970s when the then-shah of Iran paid the UK £400 million for 1,500 Chieftain tanks. Britain refused to deliver the tanks to the new Islamic Republic when the shah was topped in 1979, but kept the cash despite British courts accepting it should be repaid.
Despite current foreign secretary Liz Truss acknowledging the link, foreign office minister James Cleverly told the commons only in March last year that historic debts between the two countries are “unrelated” to Nazanin’s detention.