'I’m not going to live the rest of my life with a grudge': Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe looks to the future

It turns out that what did not break her made her stronger. It gave her the courage to articulate the pain and loss she has endured, and the compassion to recognise that though she may be liberated, others less fortunate still wait for their freedom.

For more than an hour, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe fielded questions from the world’s media on her terms. She spoke candidly about the toll six years of detention in Iran had taken on her, yet firmly and politely refused to indulge those in search of the most harrowing illustrations.

Sitting alongside her husband Richard, with their daughter Gabriella looking on, she expressed gratitude towards the politicians who had helped secure her release, yet admonished the UK Government and a succession of foreign secretaries for taking six long years to bring her home.

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She sparkled with joy as she recalled the precious family moments she has savoured since her return, such as braiding Gabriella’s hair, yet was unfailingly sincere about how even the long-awaited journey back to her loved ones was bittersweet. “I am coming back to a daughter who is nearly eight,” she said at one point. “I left her when she was not even two.”

Throughout it all, however, there were smiles. Smiles for what lies ahead and, implausible though it may seem, smiles for what had gone before. “Gabriella told me on the phone one day while I was still in Iran, ‘Mummy, you do realise that you are very famous, and then it’s me, and then it’s Daddy?’” she recalled to warm laughter.

“I said, ‘OK, it’s not good to be famous, you want to have a normal life’. She was like ‘you’re not going to be famous forever – maximum, a week’.”

For Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family, now taking the first tentative steps towards rebuilding a family life that was put on hold, that prediction will be a comfort as well as an ambition.

But even as she found herself in the media spotlight, she did not shy away from confronting difficult truths.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe speaks publicly for the first time following her return to Britain. Picture: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool/Getty
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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's freedom after six-year detention in Iran is a story ...

Moments after her husband thanked foreign secretary Liz Truss for bringing her home, the 44-year-old qualified her own appreciation, turning to him with a broad grin as she did so.

“I love you Richard,” she said. “I respect what you believe, but I was told many, many times that ‘oh, we’re going to get you home’. That never happened.”

Time and again, she spoke of how she should not have had to wait those six years, and chided those who could – and should – have expedited her return. “How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home?” she asked. “Five?”

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Speaking at the press conference in Portcullis House, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe declined to discuss in detail the deal that made her release possible, but made it abundantly clear she should not have been caught up in the geopolitical tensions between Britain and Iran.

“I have been a pawn in the hands of the two governments for the past six years,” she insisted. “I don’t think anybody’s life should be linked to a global agreement, whether it’s a nuclear deal or [the] environment, or whatever.

“Every human being has got the right to be free and what really upset me over these years was that my life was linked to something that had nothing to do with me.”

So too, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe pointed out that even though her story had a happy ending, it formed part of an ongoing narrative yet to be resolved.

“I believe that the meaning of freedom is never going to be complete until such time that all of us who are unjustly detained in Iran are reunited with their families,” she said.

As she spoke, Roxanne Tahbaz looked on, visibly upset. The daughter of Morad Tahbaz, a 66-year-old British-US national who was one of eight conservationists arrested in Iran more than four years ago, she was invited to highlight her father’s plight.

He was released from prison on the same day as Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, but within 48 hours, he was returned to prison. Now, he is on hunger strike, having been moved to a hotel.

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When she spoke, there was further criticism for those Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) mandarins, who by then had been thoroughly disabused of any notions the press conference might cast them in a wholly positive light.

“From the outset we were always assured by the FCDO that my father would be included in any deal that was made to release all of the hostages,” Ms Tahbaz said. “We’re truly devastated knowing now that this was not the case.”

The fight goes on for the Tahbaz family, and the Zaghari-Ratcliffes will be there to offer moral support and practical guidance.

For now, though, the focus is on a new chapter. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, conceded her experiences in Iran would always be a source of her torment, but refused to let it define her.

She was, she explained, a woman now better acquainted with her strengths and her faith than she was previously, even if such realisations came at a “huge price”.

She added: “It’s very difficult for me to talk about what I’ve gone through. It will always haunt me, there is no other way around it. But at the moment, I would rather just focus on coming back home.”

At one point, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she “cannot be happier,” and looked back on how it felt as if she had been “holding a black hole in my heart all those years”. But no longer.

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“I’m going to leave that black hole on the plane,” she said, assured and smiling. “I’m not going to live the rest of my life with a grudge.”

With that, she left to restart a life less ordinary. There is so much to catch up on, and so much to do.

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