Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's Release From Prison in Iran Is Extended

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Release From Prison in Iran Is Extended

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Release From Prison in Iran Is Extended

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s Release From Prison in Iran Is Extended

A British-Iranian woman who was granted temporary release from prison in Iran in March amid the coronavirus pandemic has had her furlough extended indefinitely, her family said on Wednesday, raising hopes that she could be granted clemency and return to Britain.

A court in Iran sentenced the woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, to five years in prison in 2016, saying she had plotted to overthrow the country’s government, charges that she and her family have vigorously denied. She was freed from the Evin prison, north of Tehran, in mid-March, as the authorities released prisoners amid fears about the spread of the coronavirus among detainees.

Iran was hit by the virus in January, becoming the worst-affected country in the Middle East. Since then, it has reported more than 124,000 cases and 7,100 deaths.

Since her release, Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation at the time of her arrest, has been staying with her parents in Tehran while wearing an ankle bracelet, her family said. Her temporary release was supposed to end on Wednesday, but her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said that she had been told by the Iranian authorities that it had been extended indefinitely.

“Today is a step forward,” Mr. Ratcliffe said by phone. “But you remain a bargaining chip all the time,” he said of his wife. The couple have a 5-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who spent more than three years with her mother’s family in Tehran before she was allowed to return to Britain in October.

Mr. Ratcliffe, who spoke to Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe on Wednesday, said his wife was relieved about the news of her indefinite release. “It’s quite up and down,” he said. “Some days, she’s doing fine; some days, she’s feeling that this will never end.”

A native of Iran who had lived in London for years, Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at a Tehran airport in 2016 while trying to return to Britain with the couple’s young daughter after visiting family. In January, Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was briefly transferred to a psychiatric hospital unit, prompting fear for her well-being.

“The great strain is on your mental health,” Mr. Ratcliffe said about his wife’s condition. “The system is remarkable at putting people under pressure.”

Western governments and human rights organizations have long denounced the detentions as a strategy by the Iranian authorities to use dual citizens as a leverage in the repatriation of Iranian prisoners in other countries.

“She’s now a ‘potential good news’ bargaining chip instead of a ‘possibly bad news’ bargaining chip,” Mr. Ratcliffe said of his wife.

On Saturday, a French-Iranian researcher, Fariba Adelkhah, was sentenced to six years in prison “for gathering and conspiring against Iran’s national security,” according to her lawyer, Saeid Dehghan.

Ms. Adelkhah has been detained in the same prison, Evin, where Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held. Ms. Adelkhah went on a hunger strike this year, as did Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband last year, to demand their unconditional release.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation has shifted amid the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Ratcliffe said, and at a time when Iran has toned down its approach toward the West after tensions escalated this year. Iranian and American officials were said to have recently discussed a possible prisoner swap between an American Navy veteran, Michael White, and an unnamed Iranian-American doctor in U.S. custody. And in March, the French researcher Roland Marchal, the partner of Ms. Adelkhah who was arrested alongside her last year, was released as part of a prisoner swap involving an Iranian engineer, Jalal Ruhollahnejad, held in France and wanted in the United States.

Still, Mr. Ratcliffe said he feared that his wife could be forced to return to prison or ordered to stay under house detention indefinitely. Her ankle bracelet prevents her from venturing farther than about 1,000 feet outside.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe will have to check every Saturday if she has to return to prison until a decision is made on clemency, Mr. Ratcliffe added.

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