Iranian-British national and Lewisham resident Anoosheh Ashoori was returning to Britain today alongside Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – both suddenly released after being imprisoned in Iran for over five years.
“We are delighted to confirm that Anoosheh has been released and will be returning to the UK,” the Ashoori family said in a statement.
Ashoori, 67, will be reunited with his wife of 37 years, Sherry Izadi, at their home in Lewisham, where they have lived since 2005 and their two children, Elika and Aryan, both in their 30’s.
Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe were both taken to Tehran Airport where they boarded a flight to Oman, where they were pictured for the first time by the Omani foreign minister Sayyid Badr Albusaidi. He later tweeted the image:
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was also arrested in 2016 after being accused of trying to overthrow the Iranian government. Both have denied these claims.
Both were released as part of a negotiated deal between Britain and Iran in which the Government has settled a debt of almost £400m owed to Iran from the 1970s, with the funds ring-fenced solely for humanitarian purposes.
The Ashoori family said: “1672 days ago, our family’s foundations were rocked when our father and husband was held hostage and taken away from us. Now, we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place. This day has been a long time coming, and we are thankful for the efforts of everyone involved in bringing Anoosheh home.”
Ashoori was visiting his mother in Tehran in 2017 when he was taken from the street, hooded and driven to Evin Prison, a site known for housing political prisoners in Tehran since the 1970s, which Ashoori called in an account of his imprisonment “the valley of hell.” There, he was sentenced to 12 years on false charges of spying for the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
“Our family’s foundations were rocked when our father and husband was held hostage and taken away from us. Now, we can look forward to rebuilding those same foundations with our cornerstone back in place” – Ashoori family statement
In an interview with East London Lines last year, Izadi said: “He went in a chubby, 64-year-old man; and when my mother-in-law saw him, he was this old man with a beard who had lost 17 kilograms. She said he looked like an Auschwitz survivor.”
Izadi said she was ‘so depressed she couldn’t get out of bed’ at times, whilst their son Aryan suffered panic attacks and was close to a mental breakdown.
Ashoori tried committing suicide twice during his detention after being violently pressured by Iranian officials to sign a confession admitting to the allegations. However, he fought hard and refused to sign, going on hunger strike in protest.
Ashoori, a retired engineer, attended Thames Polytechnic [now Greenwich University] and had dedicated his career to protecting people in regions prone to earthquakes. His designs were instrumental in the reconstruction of Bam in Iran after an earthquake killed at least 34,000 people in 2003.
Janet Daby, Member of Parliament for Lewisham East who has been helping with Ashoori’s release said in a statement: “I am beyond thrilled to hear the news of Anoosheh’s release. I am incredibly happy for Anoosheh, his wife Sherry, his children Elika and Aryan, and all his family and friends. And today I spoke to Sherry, indeed I had been speaking to her yesterday as well, and she tells me that she has had several years of heartache and separation. And of course, all of this could have been avoided. I can only imagine the pain and sadness that they have gone through. Now an awful nightmare has come to an end. I will be joining in with Anoosheh’s family in crying joyfully at his return.”
Daby added: “Anoosheh is my constituent in Lewisham East. When I became an MP in June 2018, Anoosheh had already spent ten months detained in Iran.”
“As his elected representative, I have consistently called for the government to do all they can to get Anoosheh released. Earlier this year, Anoosheh had taken matters into his own hands and went on a hunger strike. It does genuinely pain me that one of my own constituents was forced to do this.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, also went on a hunger strike for 21 days last year in front of the foreign office, demanding the government do more to help free his wife in Iran.
During Ashoori’s imprisonment, Izadi fought hard for his diplomatic protection, attending meetings with ministers and key player in the negotiations, Foreign Secretary Lizz Truss. Although Ashoori qualified for diplomatic protection, it was not granted, and there was no explanation as to why. Izadi told ELL she believed the meeting was “almost like an obligation that they had to fulfil”.
Last year, ELL asked the Foreign Office to comment on Izadi’s claim that Liz Truss refused to grant Ashoori diplomatic protection. A spokesperson said: “Iran’s continued detention of Anoosheh Ashoori is wholly unjustified. We call on Iran to end his suffering and allow him to return home to be reunited with his wife and children. The Foreign Secretary raised Anoosheh’s case with the Iranian Foreign Minister on 8 November, along with the cases of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mora Tahbaz, and will continue to do so.”
Although it has not been said that Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe were arrested for ransom, ministers from both countries believe that the repayment was a precondition to their release.
Daby told the House of Commons today: “I do salute, the foreign secretary for making the IMS (International Military Services] debt her priority, and I thank her for that. But I would also like to say that it has been over 1,650 days since Anoosheh was detained and these are days of his life that cannot be returned to him.”
While the government claims to have worked tirelessly fighting for Ashoori and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, many feel they did not do enough. Nadia Whittome MP took to Twitter to say: “Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe & Anoosheh Ashoori have been released, after 6 & 4 years respectively. The tireless efforts of their families, MP @TulipSiddiq, and many others have helped bring them home. But it shouldn’t have taken so long. The govt has serious questions to answer.”