Nazanin is a British-Iranian charity worker who was arbitrarily detained in Iran from 3 April 2016 until 16 March 2022. She was detained in Iran on unspecified charges, separated from her daughter and her husband who were in the UK. Nazanin was innocent of the allegations made against her by the Iranian authorities.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian dual national who was living in London with her husband Richard and their baby daughter, Gabriella.
On 3 April 2016, Nazanin was returning from visiting family in Iran with then 22-month-old daughter Gabriella, when she was arrested at the airport by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). No reason was given for her arrest.
Following her arrest, Nazanin was taken to an unspecified detention centre in Tehran, before being transported one thousand kilometres away to an unspecified detention centre Kerman a week later. In June 2016 she was transferred to Evin prison in Tehran.
Iranian authorities then held Nazanin in solitary confinement for 45 consecutive days, where she was not allowed to contact her husband and had only limited and tightly controlled communications with her family. She was not given access to legal counsel or medical treatment, and the lights in her cell remained permanently switched on.
Following a secret and unfair trial in August 2016, Nazanin was sentenced to five years in prison on unspecified charges relating to national security. She was only given access to her lawyer the day before the court session, who was later given just five minutes to defend her. This was repeated in the appeals process, and in April 2017, Iran’s Supreme Court upheld the conviction marking the end of the legal process.
During her detention, Nazanin was held in inhumane conditions, in cells without windows, natural air or light and measuring around 1.5m by 2m in size and spent eight and a half months in solitary confinement. Iranian authorities placed significant psychological pressure on Nazanin and made threats to her family during her detention.
Nazanin’s treatment in prison had an extremely severe impact on her mental and physical health, which has caused at times, among other things, an inability to walk and use her arms and hands, severe weight and hair loss, blackouts, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, advanced depression and suicidal tendencies. In prison she was only given limited and infrequent access to medical care, and was often denied treatment entirely.
In October 2017, Nazanin was informed of three fresh charges and that she could face an additional 16 years in prison. The charges, related to “spreading propaganda”, were apparently linked to her charity work in the UK. However, her court date was postponed in the wake of the UK Foreign Secretary’s visit to the country. On 3 February 2018, the Iranian judiciary informed Nazanin that the case was closed.
On 17 March 2020, Nazanin was released from prison to live at her parents’ residence in Iran on ‘furlough’ in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. She was forced to wear an ankle tag with a range of only 300 metres, making her effectively under house arrest. There were no health clinics, parks, libraries, or shops within this radius, and Nazanin remained extremely isolated, not being able to see her husband and daughter in the UK, and with friends and family members being too afraid to visit given the politicised nature of her detention.
Under house arrest, Nazanin was only allowed limited access to medical treatment. She continues to suffer from severe psychological and physical impacts of her torture and ill-treatment, and the ongoing uncertainty about her fate.
The second case was revived in September and October 2020, when she was told she would be required to return to prison following a court hearing. On 2 November 2020 Nazanin was escorted to court by the IRGC. The same evidence used to convict her in 2016 was presented to the court in relation to the new charges. Nazanin was not allowed to present her defence and the case was adjourned, with no verdict delivered. No new court date was set. Nazanin was allowed to return to her parent’s house wearing the ankle tag.
In accordance with the Iranian calendar, Nazanin’s five-year sentence ended on 7 March 2021, but despite having officially completed her sentence, Iran did not return Nazanin’s British passport and raised the second case against her on 14th March. On 26 April 2021 Nazanin was found guilty in her second trial for “spreading propaganda against the regime” and received a further one-year sentence and a travel ban for one year. The sentence was upheld on appeal on 16 October 2021.
The UK government said it advocated for Nazanin’s release at the highest levels with the Iranian authorities. Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and refused British consular access as a result.
There were clear indications that Nazanin was being held as diplomatic leverage by Iran against the UK government. Revolutionary Guard interrogators, judges and prosecutors repeatedly told Nazanin and her family that her imprisonment was related to the UK’s failure to pay a £400 million debt to Iran from a 1970s arms deal. The UK government denied any link between the debt and Nazanin’s imprisonment.
Nazanin was allowed to return to the UK on 16 March 2002 together with another British hostage, Anoosheh Ashoori. At the time of her release, the UK paid the debt to Iran.
ACTION FOR JUSTICE
REDRESS filed a complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) on 17 June 2016. In the petition we argued that Nazanin’s detention without charge, separation from her two-year-old daughter, and time spent in solitary confinement were in breach of Articles 7, 9, 10, 14 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and constitutes arbitrary detention.
REDRESS went on to submit additional information to the WGAD updating them on Nazanin’s condition in August 2016 and January 2017. In April 2017, REDRESS filed an implementation submission informing them that no progress has been made regarding her recommended release, more than one year after Nazanin’s arrest.
In October 2017, REDRESS released a legal opinion by leading counsel that found that Nazanin has been “subjected to a series of grave violations of her fundamental rights” and that she was being targeted as a British citizen and dual national.
In November 2017, REDRESS released a second legal opinion by leading counsel that found that “the only effective means under international law by which the grave harm suffered by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe may be repaired lies in the UK’s right to exercise diplomatic protection.”
In February 2018, REDRESS submitted an urgent appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calling for his immediate intervention in the case to request Iran to stop any torture or ill-treatment, provide an independent medical examination and any medical treatment deemed necessary.
In March 2021, REDRESS provided evidence to the UK Foreign Office of Nazanin’s severe physical and psychological suffering due to Iran’s treatment, confirming that she had been subject to torture. On 2 March 2021, then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab acknowledged publicly for the first time that her treatment by Iranian officials amounted to torture.
In August 2021 REDRESS submitted an unprecedented second complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention seeking urgent intervention in Nazanin’s case.
More recently, REDRESS requested the UK Foreign Secretary to impose targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for the human rights abuses of Nazanin and other foreign hostages detained in Iran.
REDRESS’s work on Nazanin’s case was carried out in collaboration with Dr Tatyana Eatwell, Alison Macdonald QC, Prof John Dugard SC, and Tayyiba Bajwa.
On 7 September 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published its findings in response to our complaint. They found that Nazanin’s arrest and detention was arbitrary, and she was denied the right to a fair trial, and called for her immediate release. The WGAD also found that Nazanin was targeted due to her dual citizenship.
The WGAD found that the arrest and detention of Nazanin breached articles 9, 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The UN body expressed its grave concern for Nazanin’s health, and the health problems she is suffering from as a result of time spent in solitary confinement and separation from her daughter.
On 7 October 2016, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran Ahmed Shaheed called for Nazanin’s immediate release. His appeal was endorsed by five UN rapporteurs, including the Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Following news of the fresh charges in October 2017, UN rights experts reiterated calls for her immediate release.
On 7 March 2019 the UK government granted Nazanin diplomatic protection, following the legal opinion submitted by REDRESS.
- Case name: Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe
- Jurisdiction: UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention | UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
- Date filed: 17 June 2016
- Current status: Decision reached; Implementation pending; Nazanin released
- Legal representation: REDRESS
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, which sets out the fundamental human rights which must be universally protected.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly on 16 December 1966, committing signatories to respect the civil and political rights of individuals
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), mandated by the UN, is a body composed of independent experts in the field of human rights. The Working Group’s mission is to investigate cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and to take action relating to those cases when necessary.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) is a treaty adopted in 1963 that defines a framework for consular relations between states. It sets out the right of a state to intervene in matters concerning its nationals overseas.
Diplomatic protection is a formal State-to-State process employed by the State of nationality when a national suffers injury as a result of an internationally wrongful act committed by another State. It is a procedure intended to secure protection of a national, and to obtain reparation for the wrongful act committed. It may be achieved by way of either “diplomatic action” or “international judicial proceedings”.
Photo by Free Nazanin Campaign.