MP who campaigned for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release tells of first meeting

MP Tulip Siddiq said meeting Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe for the first time was ‘surreal’ after six years of campaigning for her release from Iran.

20 March 2022

An MP who campaigned for six years for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has told of their “emotional” first meeting.

Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and shadow economic secretary to the Treasury, said seeing the 43-year-old mum-of-one in her constituency on Sunday was “surreal”.

The British-Iranian charity worker landed back on British soil from Iran in the early hours of Thursday after the UK finally agreed to settle a £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s.

Ms Siddiq told the PA news agency it was “quite weird” because she had come to know Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life “so intimately” from speaking to her as she went through her ordeal, but the pair had never previously met in person.

She said: “We knew we were going to meet each other and she had called me to say that I was one of the first people she wanted to see.

“So she came to West Hampstead and we hugged each other for ages and we were both quite tearful and it was quite emotional meeting her.

“She knew so much about me and I knew so much about her and she did thank me profusely but I said to her ‘it wasn’t me, this was a shared victory and everyone here in this community campaigned for you and, obviously, full credit to Richard – he was the one who was relentless in his campaigning’.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Nazanin with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella (Family Handout/PA)

Ms Siddiq said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was “warm and motherly”, was “in every way, the way I imagined”, and talked of how she dreamt of doing simple things like the school run and going to the park with her daughter, Gabriella, seven, while in solitary confinement.

“Surreal, completely surreal,” she added.

Ms Siddiq, began campaigning for her release in April 2016 when Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard, came to her to ask for help in securing his wife’s return.

The MP became a prominent voice calling for more to be done to have Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe brought back and supported Mr Ratcliffe as he campaigned.

Ms Siddiq was vocal during Mr Ratcliffe’s hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in central London in October and November 2021 and has frequently put pressure on the Government over the issue, raising Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention in the House of Commons.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrive at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, after they was freed from detention by Iranian authorities (Leon Neal/PA)

She said is was also the first time seeing Mr Ratcliffe reunited with his wife after years of being “defined by his solitary status”.

“It felt surreal because there he was, he wasn’t on his own, I cracked a joke with him, which was probably in poor taste but I’ve known him so long, I said ‘I see you’re not Billy no mates anymore’ and he was laughing because he knew exactly what I meant,” she said.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed on security charges after being detained in 2016 at Imam Khomeini airport following a holiday visit to Iran, where she introduced her daughter to her parents.

Fellow British-Iranian Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, was returned home at the same time as Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

He was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran.

He was detained in Evin prison for almost five years, having been accused of spying.

Both have consistently denied the allegations.

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