Downing Street defends Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after backlash over refusal to thank government

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe addressed media for the first time since her return to the UK. Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Critics attacking Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for questioning why the Government took years to secure her release have been urged to halt the online abuse.

Downing Street has said the recently freed detainee should not face any abuse on “social media or otherwise” after a backlash built over her comments following her release.

The British-Iranian mother's return to the UK following her prison ordeal sparked claims she should be more 'grateful' to the UK Government following her comments at a media address.

She finally returned to her family's side in Hampstead, London, last week after six years in detention in Iran.

However her comments during her first media address since her return inspired online attacks - prompting a "send her back" hashtag to begin trending on Twitter.

At the press conference on Monday, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it had taken too long for the Government to pay a £400 million debt to Iran, which helped secure her release.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe during a press conference hosted by their local MP Tulip Siddiq, in London Credit: right

She said although she could not be happier to be home - “this should have happened six years ago”.

She has since faced an online onslaught, with commentators suggesting she should instead be grateful or that she was somehow at fault.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman responded to reports of abuse, saying: “She has been through an unimaginable ordeal and we are extremely pleased that she’s now reunited with her family.

“And as a UK citizen, someone in a free and democratic country, she is rightly able to voice her opinion on any topic she wishes.”

Jeremy Hunt, who was among a string of foreign secretaries who failed to secure her release from detention in Iran, also leapt to her defence over the backlash.

Mr Hunt wrote on Twitter: “Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation.

“She’s absolutely right that it took too long to bring her home. I tried my best – as did other foreign secretaries – but if trying our best took six years then we must be honest and say the problem should have been solved earlier.”

Mr Hunt said the turnover of ministers in the role and a reluctance to pay the debt, which dated back to the 1970s, may have been a factor.

He said the Government did not want to appear to be paying ransom money.

Speaking on Monday, referencing her husband thanking the Government a few moments earlier, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: “I do not really agree with him on that level.”

The 43-year-old said she had seen five foreign secretaries over the course of six years, adding: “That is unprecedented given the politics of the UK. I love you Richard, respect whatever you believe, but I was told many, many times that, ‘Oh we’re going to get you home.’

“That never happened.”

She said this resulted in her finding it difficult to place trust in them, adding: “I mean, how many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? Five?”

Asked if she feels angry with the Government that it took so long to get her home, she said: “I think the answer is clear. I cannot be happier than this, that I’m here.

“But also, this should have happened six years ago.”

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe told reporters: “I’m not going to live for the rest of my life with a grudge over the past six years.”

She said what happened to her was “cruel”, adding: “This moment is so glorious for me.”

Tulip Siddiq celebrates meeting Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe for the first time in person Credit: right

She added it had taken a “very, very long time” for politicians to sort it out.

Mr Hunt’s reported backing for an independent investigation come after a call for a probe was made by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq.

She called on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to investigate.

Ms Siddiq said she owes it to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to ask questions about why the debt was not paid for “so long.”

She added that she had written to Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, to ask for a review into what happened in Nazanin’s case,” she said.