Another British national has been released from an Iran prison after human rights campaigners urged the Government not to forget detainees left behind, as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is finally released.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday said the Government was working to secure the departure of wildlife conservationist Morad Tahbaz after he was released 'on furlough.'
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on her way back to her family in Hampstead, London, after her husband's years-long fight to bring her home, after years in captivity.Amnesty International UK has been urging the Government to lobby Iranian officials for the release of two more British nationals, after news of the British-Iranian mother's return along with fellow British detainee Anoosheh Ashoori broke on Wednesday.
Mr Tahbaz, who was born in Hammersmith, west London, is one of two British nationals, described by Amnesty as "prisoners of conscience", imprisoned in Tehran's most notorious jail.
The British-American is among a group of Wildlife conservationists in Iran who were accused of espionage after using cameras to track endangered species.They had been conducting research into endangered animals including the Asiatic cheetah and Persian leopard, in work linked to the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation.
Iran authorities accused the conservationists of using scientific and environmental projects, such as tracking the cheetah with cameras, as a cover to collect classified military information, Amnesty said.Mr Tahbaz had been jailed in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, where Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was also held, since 2019.
Fellow British national, human rights defender Mehran Raoof, is also still being held in Evin Prison, campaigners say.
American officials were also pushing for Mr Tahbaz's release, with US Special Envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, earlier this year describing him in a demand for his freedom as a "father, an environmentalist, and a cancer victim."
Mr Tahbaz, who also reportedly holds Iranian citizenship, appeared not to have been a part of the deal negotiated by the UK Government that has resulted in the return of Mrs Zaghari-Ratfliffe and Mr Ashoori.
Speaking to The Guardian earlier, a member Mr Tahbaz's family said they had been in contact with the UK Foreign Office this week, trying to find out whether he would be part of the prisoner swap.
The family claimed they had been in talks with UK officials for his release be negotiated as part of a British, rather than US, deal.
The spokesperson said: “I am asking the question ‘Why is it the only British-born UK citizen held hostage in Iran is being left out and abandoned? How is it that the UK is accepting Iran’s rejection of his nationality based on his birth?”
On Wednesday afternoon, the Foreign Secretary tweeted an update on his status, saying the government had secured "furlough" from prison.
Liz Truss wrote: "I can confirm Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori will return to the UK today, and Morad Tahbaz has been released from prison on furlough. They will be reunited with their families later today.We will continue to work to secure Morad's departure from Iran."
Amnesty International UK welcomed Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release following her family's long-running campaign.
However the the human rights watchdog is urging the UK Government not to forget the British nationals who remain behind bars.
That included Mehran Raoof, who is descibed by Amnesty as a British-Iranian national, and a labour rights activist.
He has been "arbitrarily detained" in Evin prison since Revolutionary Guards agents arrested him on 16 October, 2020, Amnesty says.
The group claims he has been subjected to periods of prolonged solitary confinement and other ill-treatment.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release on Wednesday: “This is fantastic news, but it hasn’t come a moment too soon.
“Nazanin and Anoosheh should never have been detained in the first place – they were both jailed on trumped-up national security charges, a familiar tactic in Iran.
“Nazanin and Anoosheh have unquestionably been used as political pawns by the Iranian authorities – and the Iranian authorities have acted with calculated cruelty, seeking to wring the maximum diplomatic value out of their captivity.
“The Government needs to follow up on Nazanin and Anoosheh’s release by immediately renewing its calls for the release of the UK nationals Mehran Raoof and Morad Tahbaz, both of whom are still going through an ordeal all too similar to Nazanin and Anoosheh’s.
“It’s been clear for years that the Iranian authorities are targeting foreign nationals with spurious national security-related charges to exert diplomatic pressure, and it’s more important than ever that Britain works multilaterally to combat this insidious practice.”In November, a Foreign Office spokesman said the Iranian deputy foreign minister had met with Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly regarding British nationals detained in Iran, including Mr Tahbaz.A spokesperson said at the time that the Iranian deputy foreign minister was pressed by his UK counterpart on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unfairly detained in Iran, including Mr Tahbaz.