Iran releases British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest but court summons looms


FILE PHOTO: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her daughter Gabriella pose for a photo in London, Britain February 7, 2016. Picture taken February 7, 2016. Karl Brandt/Courtesy of Free Nazanin campaign/Handout via REUTERS

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest at the end of her five-year prison sentence, but she has been summoned to court again on another charge, her lawyer said on Sunday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government would continue to do everything possible to secure her permanent release so she could return to the UK.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who served out most of her sentence in Tehran's Evin prison, was released last March during the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest, but her movements were restricted and she was barred from leaving the country.

On Sunday the authorities removed her ankle tag.

"She was pardoned by Iran's supreme leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they're cast off," her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told an Iranian website. "She has been freed."

Iran's judiciary was not immediately available to comment about the release. Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media firm Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.

Kermani said a hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's second case has been scheduled on March 14.

"In this case, she is accused of propaganda against the Islamic Republic's system for participating in a rally in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 and giving interview to the BBC Persian TV channel at the same time," Kermani said.

He said he hoped that "this case will be closed at this stage, considering the previous investigation".

MIXED NEWS

In a tweet, Johnson said he was "pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable".

The prime minister added, "She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this".

Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband Richard Ratcliffe told Sky News on Sunday she was "pleased" her ankle tag had been removed but said the news was "mixed" from Iran due to the court summons. Ratcliffe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Antonio Zappulla, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said the foundation was "delighted that her jail term was ended" and that she had told him she was "'ecstatic' to be able to sit in a cafe and have a coffee".

"Nazanin must be given her freedom, as was promised."

British foreign minister Dominic Raab welcomed the removal of the ankle tag but said Iran continued to put Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family through a "cruel and an intolerable ordeal".

"We have relayed to the Iranian authorities in the strongest possible terms that her continued confinement is unacceptable," Raab said in a statement.

Her lawyer told Iranian state TV he had no news on the status of her travel ban.

The detentions of dozens of dual nationals and foreigners have complicated ties between Tehran and several European countries including Germany, France and Britain, all parties to Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers.

The release come as Iran and the United States are trying to revive the deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, then reimposing sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by scaling down its compliance.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Elizabeth Piper in London; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Catherine Evans and Frances Kerry)

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