LONDON/DUBAI, March 15 (Reuters) – British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her British passport returned, British lawmaker Tulip Siddiq said on Tuesday, as Tehran and London pressed on with talks about a long-standing 400-million-pound ($520 mln) debt.
“I am very pleased to say that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been given her British passport back,” Siddiq, who is the member of parliament for where Zaghari-Ratcliffe used to live in London, said on Twitter.
“She is still at her family home in Tehran. I also understand that there is a British negotiating team in Tehran right now,” she added on Twitter. Reuters was unable to ascertain if a British team of negotiators was in Tehran nor what the subject of any discussion would be.
Asked if Britain had a negotiating team out in Iran, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “I’m not going to get into further speculation at this point”.
A spokesperson for Siddiq’s office told Reuters the lawmaker had based her remarks on information from Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family.
Separately, her lawyer Hojjat Kermani, when asked whether Zaghari-Ratcliffe will be released, told Reuters: “I am hopeful that we will have good news soon.”
Kermani said his view was based on meetings and discussions he had had with the Iranian judiciary about the case of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation who was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted by an Iranian court of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We have long called for the release of unfairly detained British nationals in Iran. We don’t comment on speculation.”
The Thomson Reuters Foundation declined immediate comment on Siddiq’s statement. Richard Ratcliffe did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Iranian officials did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the remarks by Siddiq and Kermani.
Reuters was unable to independently establish the status of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation said that she had travelled to Iran in a personal capacity and had not been doing work in Iran. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is a charity organisation that is independent of Thomson Reuters and operates independently of Reuters News.
Iran‘s clerical establishment says Britain owes the money that Iran‘s 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 U.S.-backed leader.
While the British and Iranian governments have said there is no connection between the debt and the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Iranian state media in 2021 reported unidentified Iranian officials saying she would be freed once the debt was paid. Read full story
Iranian officials did not comment when asked whether the amount has been paid by Britain as reported by some Iranian outlets.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who served most of her first sentence in Tehran’s Evin prison, was released in March 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran. In March 2021, she was released from house arrest but she was summoned to court again on the new charge.
In April 2021, she was then sentenced to a new term in jail on charges of propaganda against Iran‘s ruling system, charges she denies. However that sentence has not yet started and she is banned from leaving the country.
($1 = 0.7673 pounds)
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Kylie MacLellan in London; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout in London, Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle)