‘Nazanin Can’t Believe She’s Here’: Tulip Siddiq On What Life Has Been Like For Nazanin Since Returning To The UK

After a six-year fight to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, MP Tulip Siddiq talks to Georgia Aspinall about the momentous day she finally came home.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

The moment Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe landed at RAF Brize Norton, her seven- year-old daughter Gabriella could be heard delicately asking her dad, ‘Is that mummy?’ It had been six years since the family had been together, finally able to embrace after years of failed efforts to get her home.

Now, she's able to talk to the British press about her ordeal for the first time. Appearing at a press conference in Westminster, Nazanin questioned why it took so long. 'What's happened now should have happened six years ago. I shouldn't have been in prison for six years,' she said. 'I have seen five foreign secretaries change over the course of six years. How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? It should have been one of them eventually. We all know… how I came home. It should have happened exactly six years ago.'

The British-Iranian national, 43, was detained in Tehran in April 2016, accused of spying and spreading propaganda against Iran. Her husband Richard has fought tirelessly for her release ever since, maintaining that her imprisonment was due to a £400m debt the UK Government has owed Iran since 1979 (when Iran ordered British tanks and armoured vehicles that were never delivered). She was a political bargaining chip then: her life torn apart amid Government power squabbles.

Britain refused to acknowledge the debt for years, until February, when Foreign Secretary Liz Truss finally noted it as ‘legitimate’. Mere weeks later, the debt paid, Nazanin was reunited with her family. Tulip Siddiq, Nazanin’s local MP in Hampstead, tells Grazia that they knew the former charity worker was due to come home six days before the reunion, but everyone wanted to keep the news private for as long as possible – they couldn’t be certain of anything.

‘Nazanin was very anxious in the days leading up [to her leaving],’ Tulip says. ‘She had her bags packed, waiting for a knock on the door. One day she messaged me saying, “High levels of stress.” She was also very sad about leaving her parents.’ Last March, Richard told Grazia that Nazanin would never return to Iran once she arrived home, saying it will 'absolutely be a one-way ticket.'

Richard too was nervous about last-minute hitches, Tulip says. ‘She almost came home last year. There was a deal in place but our Government backed out last minute, so it fell apart. It was hard to have faith in the Government when they had pulled out once before. We were watching every move with bated breath.’

Gabriella has been attached to Nazanin like an extra limb since she landed.

So if all it took to get Nazanin –and fellow detainee Anoosheh Ashoori – home was paying this debt, are the #FreeNazanin camp angry over those six lost years? ‘I’m grateful to Liz Truss for the work she did,’ Tulip says. ‘But there are questions about why this took so long. We need an inquiry about why the debt wasn’t paid and why we didn’t act faster when Nazanin was detained.’

Right now, though, Tulip wants to focus on the joy of a family reunited. ‘Gabriella has been attached to Nazanin like an extra limb since she landed! She doesn’t know what to do with herself, she’s so happy,’ Tulip says. ‘Nazanin seems elated but she said she’s exhausted and can’t sleep. She can’t believe she’s here.

Nazanin too spoke of her emotional reunion with her daughter at today's press conference. 'I had been waiting for that moment for such a long time,' she said. 'It was lovely to get to hold her, to braid her hair and to brush her hair. That was a moment that I really, really missed.

So what's next for Nazanin?

‘She wants to come back to the community and thank people, also make lots of new friends because she knows how many people supported her when she was in jail,' Tulip says. 'She wants to take baby steps, but also make up for the lost years. She has her whole life ahead of her now.’

For right now, that next step seems to be ensuring other dual nationals still trapped in Iran are released. Morad Tahbaz - who has British, Iranian, and American citizenship - remains there alongside numerous other people being held on various allegations of working to undermine the Iranian regime. Morad's daughter, Roxanne Tahbaz, said her family felt 'abandoned and left behind' by the British government.

'I believe that the meaning of freedom is never going to be complete until such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with our families,' Nazanin said. 'There are so many other people - we don't know their names - who have been suffering in prison.'

Read More:

Richard Ratcliffe: ‘Nazanin Was Taken Age 37, She's Now 43. Those Are Quite Critical Years To Lose If You're Trying For A Baby’

A Heartbroken Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe Has Sent Her Daughter Back To The UK

Tulip Siddiq: 'Boris Johnson Should Have Been Sacked Over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe'

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