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British-Iranian prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe freed in Iran, says lawyer

Aid worker has electronic ankle tag removed after end of five-year sentence as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson demands she 'be released permanently'
An undated handout image released by the Free Nazanin campaign in London on 10 June 2016 shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe posing for a photograph with her daughter, Gabriella (AFP)

Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her lawyer, Hojjat Kermani, told Iranian website Emtedad on Sunday, and an electronic tag attached to her leg has been removed.

"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," Kermani told the website.

"She has been freed."

Iran's judiciary officials have yet to comment about the release.

It was not immediately clear whether she was allowed to leave Iran. Kermani was quoted as saying that "a hearing for Zaghari's second case has been scheduled at branch 15 of the Revolutionary Court of Tehran," according to the website.

Kermani later confirmed that a hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's second case had been scheduled on 14 March.

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"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 an 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".

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 as she prepared to head back to Britain with her daughter after a family visit.

She was later sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran's clerical establishment.

Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media firm Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.

She was released from jail in March last year and put under house arrest in Tehran in response to concerns about the spread of Covid-19 in Iran's prisons, but her movements were restricted and she was barred from leaving the country.

'Intolerable ordeal'

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Sunday to do all he could to secure the permanent release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

"Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable," Johnson said on Twitter.

"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 that 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.

'Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable'

- British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Antonio Zappulla, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said the organisation 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 Secretary 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 comes as Iran and the United States are trying to revive the deal, which former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, before reimposing sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by scaling down its compliance.