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The hostage left behind

The hostage left behind

When a 40-year-old debt was settled between Britain and Iran last week, two British hostages were allowed to return home. So why was Morad Tahbaz, also a British hostage, left behind?


“Every person has got the right to be free and freedom is something that has to be given to people. And I think the world should unite together to make sure there is no one held either hostage or in prison for something they haven’t done.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

At a press conference in London this week, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe addressed the media for the first time since her release from Iran.

She was sitting in between her husband Richard Ratcliffe and her MP, Tulip Siddiq but there was another person sitting there too, someone Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe had insisted should join them.

“My name is Roxanne as Tulip said, I am Morad Tahbaz’s eldest daughter. It’s been over four years now since my father was detained and my mother was put on a travel ban within Iran.” 

Roxanne Tahbaz

Morad Tahbaz is a conservationist and British-US national. 

Now aged 66, he was arrested during an Iranian campaign against environmental activists and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of spying for the United States and undermining Iran’s security. 

“So Morad Tahbaz is a British citizen, as it happens he’s also an American citizen and he’s got Iranian citizenship so he’s a slightly more complicated picture than Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe or Anoosheh Ashoori who came out from Iran last week.”

Ceri Thomas, Tortoise

My colleague Ceri Thomas is an editor at Tortoise. He’s been reporting on this story for a while.

“He was being treated for the purposes of the negotiations that got Nazanin and Anoosheh out, as a British citizen because he was born in Hammersmith in London and he’d lived in north London for a while, and so it was the British who were leading the negotiations to have him released.”

Ceri Thomas, Tortoise

Morad Tahbaz’s family had been told by the Foreign Office that he would be released once a debt owed by Britain to Iran had been paid.

But when the debt was eventually settled last week, only two hostages, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, returned home to the UK.

“So it came as a terrible shock and a huge disappointment to them when he wasn’t on the plane that brought those two home.”

Ceri Thomas, Tortoise

“As you can imagine, my siblings and I are desperate to be reunited with our parents and therefore I am here today to ask the question of why my father, as the only UK born national, has been abandoned and left behind there.”

Roxanne Tahbaz

So, why wasn’t he released along with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Asoori?

***

The UK foreign office wanted to treat Morad Tahbaz as a British hostage.

“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, so we’re truly devastated knowing now that this was not the case…”

Roxanne Tahbaz

But because he is also a US citizen, the Iranians knew they’d be able to demand even more for his release.

“For the Iranians, they might have thought he had more value to them if they treated him as an American hostage and you’ll have seen last week, Iran didn’t release the American hostages when it let out Nazanin and Anoosheh.”

Ceri Thomas, Tortoise

Washington wanted to do a deal that would free all British and American hostages at the same time, but the British government decided to go it alone and settle the debt.

That was enough to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, because they are British-Iranian.

But Morad Tahbaz is also an American citizen and the US government is still locked in negotiations with Iran over a nuclear deal.

“The best hope is that they’re planning to let those people out when talks in Vienna that are aimed at reviving the nuclear deal between Iran and a bunch of countries, if they conclude successfully, which they could do quite soon, then fingers crossed the plan is that Morad and a bunch of other people will come out then… So it might, optimistically only be a matter of days until that happens, if that’s not the case then I think his future looks really quite uncertain.”

Ceri Thomas, Tortoise

***

During her press conference, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was critical of the fact that it took five foreign secretaries to secure her release.  

“It should have happened six years ago, I shouldn’t have been in prison for six years.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Tortoise

Here’s one of those foreign secretaries, Jeremy Hunt.

“I think we do need some kind of independent inquiry into this, I would welcome the Foreign Affairs Select Committee doing it… I think there was a lot of reluctance when I arrived as foreign secretary because there was a sense that it might be seen as a ransom and we don’t pay ransoms because that encourages more hostage taking and I think that’s right… but this is not a ransom it’s a debt.”

Jeremy Hunt speaking on the BBC’s Today programme

In principle, that committee has agreed to begin an inquiry into why the British government took more than 30 years to pay the debt.

But for Morad Tabhaz and his family that won’t be much help.

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.


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