UK says 2 detained dual nationals are returning to UK from Iran

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LONDON (AP) – Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen detained in Iran for nearly six years, has exited Tehran airport after being freed with another detainee, Anoosheh Ashoori, British officials said on Wednesday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on a trip to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, tweeted that he was delighted that the two’s “unfair detention” had ended.

“Britain has worked extensively to secure their release and I am delighted that they are being reunited with their families and loved ones,” he wrote. He said the two would return to the UK.

An Omani Royal Air Force jet left Iran just moments before MP Tulip Siddiq, representing Zaghari Ratcliffe, tweeted that they were airborne.

One picture showed Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a similar aircraft. The semi-official Tasnim news agency also posted a video online showing a woman believed to be Zaghari-Ratcliffe boarding a similar plane.

Ashoori was arrested in Tehran in August 2017. He had been sentenced to 12 years in prison for alleged links to Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, a move long disputed by his supporters and family.

A lawyer representing Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Tehran could not immediately be reached for comment.

Johnson previously confirmed that a negotiating team in Tehran was at work to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe served five years in prison. She was later convicted of conspiring to overthrow the Iranian government, a charge she, her supporters and rights groups deny. She was under house arrest and has not been able to leave the country since her release from prison.

While employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s non-profit arm, she was taken into custody at Tehran Airport in April 2016 while returning to the UK from visiting family.

Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual citizenship as a bargaining chip for money or influence in negotiations with the West, which Tehran denies. Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, so detainees like Zaghari-Ratcliffe cannot receive consular assistance. A UN panel has criticized what it describes as “an emerging pattern related to the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of persons with dual nationality” in Iran.

Iranian state media said Britain had “paid off a $530 million long overdue debt to Tehran.” The English-language Iranian broadcaster Press TV made the announcement when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was allowed to travel to the airport with British officials.

Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars had previously suggested she be released after the British government paid the sum to Iran. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi paid the sum of £400 million for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered.

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Associated Press reporter Amir Vahdat in Tehran; Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Jill Lawless and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this report; Gambrell reported from Dubai.

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