A spokesman for the Islamic Republic’s Foreign Ministry denies any connection between the imprisonment of an Iraninan-British mother in Tehran and the UK’s four-decade-old debt to Iran, after Radio Farda aired an interview with her husband alleging the contrary.
Two years ago, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, was on a trip to Iran with her toddler, Gabriella, to celebrate the Iranian New year, Norouz. On her way back home to the UK in 2016, she was arrested at the airport in Tehran. She is currently serving a six-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for “undermining the regime.”
On the second anniversary of Nazanin’s detention, her husband Richard Ratcliffe told Radio Farda that a member of Iran’s judiciary had told him his wife is in prison because of the UK’s 450 million-pound (roughly $640 million) debt to Iran.
“Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi dismissed the anti-Iran allegations spread by the media that Zaghari’s imprisonment is because of the UK’s debt to Iran,” the semi-official Mehr News Agency (MNA) reported April 8 without referencing the Radio Farda interview.
Ghasemi told the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) affiliated Fars News Agency (FNA) that any suggestion that Ratcliffe’s imprisonment is in retaliation for debt owed to Iran by the UK is “baseless speculation.”
“Ms. Zaghari, as an Iranian citizen, has been found guilty by an Iranian court and security entities, was tried according to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and now she is serving her sentence according to the same laws,” Ghasemi said. “There is no connection between her conviction and the bilateral relations between Tehran and London, and assuredly this is not a case relevant to some problems or financial disputers between Iran and the UK.”
British officials have also denied any link between Ratclifffe’s imprisonment and any outstanding debt between the two countries.
Nevertheless, in his interview with Radio Farda, Richard Ratcliffe insisted that officials in charge of his wife’s case have repeatedly asked him to press the UK government to pay its debt to Iran and pave the way for her release.
“Publicly, they deny the existence of any link between the two cases, but their messages behind closed doors are different,” Mr. Ratcliffe told Radio Farda.
The British debt to Iran dates back to the late 1970s when the Shah of Iran paid Britain 650 million pounds for 1,750 Chieftain tanks, but only 185 had been delivered when the Islamic Revolution forced the Shah to leave Iran in 1979 and the new government cancelled the order.
Britain was told to pay back 450 million pounds by the International Chamber of Commerce in a 2009 ruling. Though London has accepted the liability, disagreements over the interest rate and how the money could be transferred to Tehran without breaking international sanctions have delayed the repayment.
Furthermore, several British politicians and MPs have warned the UK’s Foreign Minister Boris Johnson not to pay the debt in exchange for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s freedom, as it would be seen as a ransom and could endanger the lives of UK citizens across the world.
“This payment must not be in anyway linked to the release of a British citizen, otherwise it could be seen as a ransom and that opens a Pandora’s Box and puts UK citizens in danger around the world if countries believe the UK will pay blackmail ransoms,” Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told The Mail Online.