The government “doesn’t have a plan” to bring home a British mother due to finish a five-year sentence in Iran next month, her local MP fears.
British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since 2016, when she was sentenced to five years in prison over allegations, which she denies, of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.
The sentence is due to end on March 7 but Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq has said “my main worry is that the government just doesn’t have a plan”.
The Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn in north London said: “We need a plan at this point, there’s no point just hoping and thinking ‘right, it’s coming to an end in March and she’s coming home’ – we need a plan to make sure that she gets her ankle tag removed, that’s the first thing”.
She told the PA News Agency: “She has to have her British passport returned, and then have a flight booked for her to come back to West Hampstead where her home is.”
Siddiq said “the government still has a lot they can do in order to ensure that it is a reality that she does come home in March”, and believes the payment of a debt the UK owes Iran will help.
She explained: “Our government still hasn’t resolved the £400m debt that we owe Iran.
“We know this debt is linked to her case, she’s been told by officials in Evin Prison when she was there that her imprisonment was linked to the debt and yet government ministers will acknowledge that we owe this debt but they don’t seem to think expediting this and freeing Nazanin is in direct correlation with each other.”
She added: “My constituent’s life is basically a bargaining chip because she’s not being set free because we haven’t fulfilled our responsibility of paying the debt.”
“That’s one of the things I’d really like to see in the next few weeks,” Siddiq said.
“If there’s some movement on that I reckon Nazanin’s chances are increased.”
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly called the debt and Nazanin’s imprisonment “unrelated issues” when it was raised in the House of Commons last November.
Cleverly said in the same session: “We recognise the debt is due. We are working to resolve this.”
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, has been out of prison since last spring due to the coronavirus crisis, and has been under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran.
She was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling to show her young daughter to her parents in April 2016.
The mother-of-one’s original sentence is due to end on March 7 but she appeared in court in November on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, termed the charges “spurious”, saying the case presented the same evidence used when she was convicted in 2016.
“I understand we’re in the middle of a pandemic and I do understand the government has lots on its plate but this is a woman who has been separated from her family for five years for a crime she didn’t commit and this is our final chance to do something right by her and bring her home,” Siddiq said.
A spokesman for the government said in a statement: “The foreign secretary and FCDO remain in close contact with both Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, and continue to provide our support.
“We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage. The regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals.”
“We continue to do everything we can to secure the release of all dual British nationals so that they can be reunited with their loved ones”.