Daughter of detained British-Iranian is reunited with father in UK

The New York Times | : Three and a half years after she and her mother were abruptly detained in a Tehran airport, beginning a saga that pitted Britain against Iran in a diplomatic dispute, Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 5, was reunited with her father in Britain on Thursday night.

Her mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian citizen, remains in a Tehran prison. Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held since 2016, after she and Gabriella were stopped at the airport while attempting to return to their home in London after visiting family in Iran.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, a British citizen, described seeing his daughter in person for the first time since she was a toddler.

“Gabriella came back to us late at night, a bit uncertain seeing those she only remembered from the phone,” Mr. Ratcliffe said in a statement. He had been in regular contact with his daughter by phone and video calls throughout her time in Iran, where she has lived with her mother’s family.

“Now she is peacefully sleeping next to me. And I am just watching,” he said. “It has been a long journey to have her home, with bumps right until the end.

Photographs show Mr. Ratcliffe and his daughter embracing and smiling after her arrival. But the reunion has been bittersweet, he said in the statement, because Gabriella will no longer be able to visit her mother.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a program director at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was accused of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, a charge that the foundation and her family have categorically denied. She was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison.

Gabriella, who was 2 at the time, initially had her passport taken away by the Iranian authorities, her father said in an earlier interview, but it was subsequently returned. The Iranian Embassy in Britain had maintained that Gabriella was free to go back to Britain at any time.

But Mr. Ratcliffe said that his daughter had remained in Iran with Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family to be near her mother. She has been allowed to visit her mother in prison regularly.

Mr. Ratcliffe and his wife staged a joint hunger strike this summer shortly after their daughter’s fifth birthday to draw attention to their case. They considered Gabriella’s birthday a significant milestone because they both wanted her to be able to start school in Britain with her peers.

Tulip Siddiq, the member of Parliament for the district where Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe lived, has been a prominent voice in demanding her release. She called the move to bring Gabriella back “a decision that no family should have to make.”

“It is heartwarming to see Gabriella reunited with her father after 1,300 days in Iran, but heartbreaking that she is separated from her mother, Nazanin,” Ms. Siddiq said in a statement. She urged Iran to release Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Ms. Siddiq noted that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health and mental well-being were precarious. “Nazanin is at breaking point,” she said.

Mr. Ratcliffe thanked the British Embassy and the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for having “helped smooth all those last blockages” to ensure his daughter’s return. But he emphasized that his wife’s plight was far from over.

The Iranian Embassy in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Of course, the job is not yet done until Nazanin is home,” Mr. Ratcliffe said. “It was a hard goodbye for Nazanin and all her family. But let us hope this homecoming unlocks another.”

In another bittersweet but unrelated family reunion of an Iranian dual national, the widow of Kavous Seyed-Emami, an Iranian-Canadian environmentalist who died in a Tehran prison after he was accused of spying, was unexpectedly reunited with her sons on Thursday in Vancouver, British Columbia.

His widow, Maryam Mombeini, 56, had been prevented from leaving Iran since March 2018, when she attempted to board a flight from Tehran to Frankfurt with her sons, on her way home to Vancouver. All three have Canadian citizenship, but the Iranian authorities seized her passport while allowing her two sons to leave.

The news that she was back in Canada was posted by one of her sons, Ramin Seyed-Emami, on his Twitter account Thursday night.

“We spent 582 days dreaming of this moment,” he wrote.

It was not immediately clear what persuaded the Iranian authorities to allow Ms. Mombeini to leave. She had not been charged with a crime. But Canadian government officials, particularly the foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, were known to be working to secure her permission to depart Iran.

On Friday, the sons issued a statement expressing thanks to Ms. Freeland and others “for their unwavering support from Day 1.”

Her husband, one of the founders of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, was seized in January 2018 with six other activists and accused of espionage. Within a few weeks, the government said he had hanged himself in a high-security isolation cell in Tehran’s Evin prison, the facility where Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held.