Iranian-British national ends 5-year sentence in spy case

A British-Iranian woman held in an Iranian prison for five years on widely refuted spying charges ended her sentence on Sunday, her lawyer said, although it remains unclear when she can leave the country.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was able to remove her ankle bracelet for the first time since she was released from prison on furlough last March because of the surging coronavirus pandemic, the lawyer said. She has been under house arrest at her parent’s home in Tehran since.

“The situation of her leaving the country is not clear yet,” lawyer Hodjat Kermani told The Associated Press.

Last fall, Iranian state TV abruptly announced a new indictment against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, but the trial was indefinitely adjourned. Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be summoned to court on March 13 over these new charges, which include “spreading propaganda against the system.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 42, was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups vigorously deny. She was taken into custody at the airport with her toddler daughter after visiting family on holiday in the capital of Tehran. At the time, she was working for Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency.

In what the UN has criticised as an “emerging pattern,” Iran has frequently arrested dual citizens in recent years, often using their cases as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.

The twists and turns of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detention have played out against a decades-old debt dispute between Britain and Iran. The countries have been negotiating the release of some 400 million pounds (USD 530 million) held by London, a payment the late Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi made for Chieftain tanks that were never delivered.

The shah abandoned the throne in 1979 and the Islamic Revolution installed the clerically overseen system that endures today.

Authorities in London and Tehran deny that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case is linked to the repayment deal. But a prisoner exchange that freed four American citizens in 2016 saw the U.S. pay a similar sum to Iran the same day of their release.

Richard Ratcliffe, who for years has campaigned vocally for his wife’s release, has said that Iran was holding Zaghari-Ratcliffe in retaliation for the tank sale dispute

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