Iran frees two dual British nationals jailed for espionage
Iran has released two dual British-Iranian nationals jailed for involvement in espionage activities against the Islamic Republic, with the pair leaving the country for the UK.
British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri departed the country on Wednesday afternoon and later arrived in Oman to take another flight home.
Ashouri, who previously lived in southeast London with his family, was detained in August 2017 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison for cooperating with Israel’s spy agency Mossad and two years for obtaining 33,000 euros in “illicit funds” nearly a year later.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, had been found guilty of plotting to orchestrate a soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic and has been in jail since 2016.
Back in October 2017, the prosecutor general of Tehran stated that she was being held for running “a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran.”
Both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her employer had maintained she was simply visiting family while on vacation.
A report published by Fars news agency on Monday said Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be released soon in return for London’s commitment to pay off a long-overdue debt to Tehran.
In return, Britain would pay $530 million (400 million pounds) to Iran to settle a debt related to an unfulfilled military contract that dates back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, Fars reported.
Britain has delayed the payment for many years citing problems faced because of foreign sanctions against Iran.
However, Tehran has insisted the debt should be settled regardless of issues that exist between Iran and the West.
The money is owed to Iran over an upfront payment made by the former Shah of Iran to Britain to buy 1,750 Chieftain tanks and other military vehicles.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday declined to comment on Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case and whether there have been direct talks on the debt issue in Tehran although he admitted that talks on consular cases have been going on for a long time.
Later in the day, British lawmaker Tulip Siddiq said Zaghari-Ratcliffe has had her British passport returned.
“I am very pleased to say that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been given her British passport back,” Siddiq said on Twitter.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday morning that her country is looking at ways to pay the 400 million pound debt to Iran.
“We have been clear this is a legitimate debt that we do owe Iran and we have been seeking ways to pay it,” Truss told Sky News.