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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori reunited with their families in the UK

17 March 2022

Alamy

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arriving at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, in the early hours of Thursday

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arriving at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, in the early hours of Thursday

THE released Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori have finally been reunited with their families in the UK after years of detention in Iran.

The two British-Iranian nationals were met by their families at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire in the early hours of Thursday after flying home via Oman.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s seven-year-old daughter, Gabriella, was heard asking: “Is that mummy?” before her mother walked down the steps from the plane.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori finally left Tehran on Wednesday, after months of negotiation.

Supporters of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was detained in Iran in 2016 on charges of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government — which she has always denied — expressed their delight and relief as the news of her release emerged on Wednesday afternoon.

Pictures of a smiling Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe taken inside the plane were widely shared across news outlets and social media. “It’s going to be the beginning of a new life,” her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told the media when the news was confirmed.

The Zaghari-Ratcliffe family have been supported by their parish church, Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead, throughout her detention. A lighted candle burns in front of a picture of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, and she has been prayed for daily.

In the eucharist on Wednesday morning — when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was still at Tehran airport, awaiting her release — the Vicar, the Revd Jonathan Kester, said: “We come together in cautious but great rejoicing that Nazanin is on the way home. And we pray that she will later be reunited with Richard and Gabriella here in this community in West Hampstead. We pray for her well-being.”

Once the news that she was on the plane home was confirmed, he described her release as “wonderful news”.

This was echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who wrote on Twitter: “Rejoicing in this wonderful news and praying for Nazanin and her family as they prepare to be reunited at long last”; and by the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who simply said: “What wonderful news!”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, herself Iranian, spoke out strongly on behalf of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe in the House of Lords in December (News, 10 December), describing her as “a pawn in a political struggle between Britain and Iran”, and calling her detention “a terrible wrong” that must be put right.

“Absolutely wonderful,” Dr Francis-Dehqani said on Wednesday. “I cannot fully express how overjoyed I am by this news. My very best wishes to Nazanin and Richard and their family.”

Mr Ratcliffe told journalists on Wednesday afternoon that he and his daughter would really believe the news only when they saw “Mummy”. He thanked people up and down the country who had supported his campaign for her release, which included his going on hunger strike.

“Ours has been a cruel experience in some ways, but it’s also been an exposure to such a level of kindness and care,” he told the BBC. “This will be a chapter in our lives, but there are many more chapters to come.”

The Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, Tulip Siddiq, speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, paid tribute to Mr Ratcliffe, saying: “I also think he’s really set the bar high for all husbands.”

Richard Ratcliffe’s sister Rebecca said “a little girl has finally got her mummy and daddy back”.

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