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Zaghari-Ratcliffe endures further wait for Iranian decision on release | News (www.theguardian.com)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian dual national detained by Iran since 2016, has been told her furlough from prison will be extended beyond the previous cut-off date of early June, according to her lawyer. But she has not been informed she will be granted a full clemency, which would allow her to return to the UK.

Her family said they were investigating the reports. They previously said they expected to hear on Saturday whether she was to be given clemency. Her lawyer, Mahmoud Behzadi-Rad, was reported by Iran International TV on Friday as saying only her furlough had been extended.

Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, had said previous commitments on clemencies made by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, meant she qualified for full release.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has served four years of a five-year sentence, and was released on furlough in March as the coronavirus outbreak entered Iran’s prisons. She has been forced to stay at her parents’ home in Tehran, and to wear a tag.

Tens of thousands of prisoners were temporarily released, including half of what Iran described as security prisoners, in March.

After appearing to have brought the coronavirus under control in late April and early May, the Iranian government discovered the disease was starting to rip through the country again.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family has had to endure a wait to hear whether she was to be allowed to return to the UK to see her daughter, Gabriella, or instead forced to return to Evin prison, Tehran. The family senses Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate is a contest between the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the ministry of foreign affairs, which would be content to see her granted clemency.

If she is forced to stay indefinitely in Tehran, the family is certain to contrast her fate to the US prisoner Michael White, who was released this week after nearly a year of negotiations.

The release occurred even though Iran is locked in a bitter conflict over the US pull-out of the 2015 nuclear deal, and Donald Trump’s subsequent imposition of sweeping economic sanctions, which have crippled the Iranian economy and made the regime’s fight against the coronavirus harder.

The US, as part of an apparent prisoner swap, allowed Majid Taheri, an Iranian scientist imprisoned in the US for 16 months, to be released. He had been accused of violating US sanctions on Iran. A second Iranian scientist, Sirous Asgari, who had been held by US immigration authorities for months, was also allowed to return to Iran.

Trump tweeted: “Thank you to Iran. It shows a deal is possible!” He added that it was in Iran’s interests to reach an agreement on a new nuclear deal before the US presidential election. The Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted: “This can happen for all prisoners. No need for cherry picking.”

The US has no direct diplomatic relations with Iran, and the swap was organised by Swiss intermediaries who act as the US representatives in Tehran.

The UK Foreign Office, at least in public, has not been able to make progress in striking a comparable pragmatic deal with Iran, in the way that the US has managed to overcome huge political conflicts.

Tulip Siddiq, the Labour MP campaigning for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release, said: “The US has negotiated the release of another hostage from Iran. I’m happy for Michael White and his family – but I would like to ask the UK government why they haven’t done the same for Nazanin, so that she could be on a plane home right now too?”

Although both the UK and Iran deny there is a direct relationship, it is privately acknowledged that the return of £400m owed by the UK to Iran for more than 30 years, arising from an arms deal, would change the atmosphere surrounding Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s fate.

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