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Iran minister drops offer to free Nazanin in swap

Hopes that Thomson Reuters Foundation manager Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (photo) might be released from a Tehran jail as part of a prisoner swap suffered a setback on Thursday.

Iran’s foreign minister appeared to retract the proposal and the British foreign secretary said he could not be party to any deal that presumed she was guilty of spying.

The impasse appears to leave Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight as before: still waiting to see if the Iranian judiciary are prepared to grant her clemency or will instead make her serve her full five-year sentence.

Mohammad Javad Zarif specifically referred to Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national held in Iran since April 2016, in a speech in New York on Wednesday in which he said he had the power to authorise her release in return for the freeing of an Iranian woman held in Australia.

But in an interview on Thursday he said the Zaghari-Ratcliffe case could not be included in any prisoner swaps, and he seemed instead to focus on bilateral deals between the US and Iran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s British husband, Richard, had earlier spoken of his hope that such a deal could enable his wife to return to the UK with their daughter, who is living with her grandmother in Tehran.

“It is definitely hopeful,” he told BBC Radio. “That’s the first time the foreign minister has talked so explicitly about Nazanin being released. He did link her to a prisoner swap which was the first time we’ve heard [that, and it] was very surprising.”

Zarif’s UK counterpart Jeremy Hunt said: “Unfortunately subsequent to making those comments the Iranian foreign minister seems to have somewhat retracted them.”

He said there was “a huge difference between Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and this woman in jail in Australia, who is facing due process, proper legal procedure, and she is alleged to have committed a very serious crime”.

Hunt said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had “done nothing wrong” and was innocent of the charges against her. “What is unacceptable about what Iran is doing is the fact they are putting innocent people in prison and using them as leverage. That is what is happening in this Australian case. They are saying we will only release this innocent Brit if you do something that suits us diplomatically.”

Hunt travelled to Iran last year to push for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, but was unsuccessful. He met her daughter Gabriella, who may come back to the UK to start school if no progress is made on her mother’s imprisonment.

He said: “The thing we mustn’t forget is that there are other Brits - dual nationals - in exactly the same situation as Nazanin whose families have chosen not to go public with their names.

“I hope the outcome will not just be freedom for Nazanin but the ending of this practice by Iran that is absolutely vile and they are basically the only country in the world that does it.” ■

The Guardian