Anoosheh Ashoori: Freed detainee ‘angry’ at government delay repaying Iran debt

Anoosheh Ashoori says he feels “angry” with the government for taking so long to repay the historic arms debt to Iran.

A British-Iranian father-of-two says he feels “angry” with the UK government for taking so long to repay the historic arms debt to Iran.

Anoosheh Ashoori, a 67-year-old retired civil engineer from Lewisham was released from Iran last week alongside fellow British-Iranian hostage Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe .

Mr Ashoori, a British-Iranian dual national, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran.

Anoosheh Ashoori and wife Sherry Izadi. Credit: Sherry Izadi

He was detained in the notorious Evin prison for almost five years, having been accused of spying.

The father-of-two has consistently and vigorously denied the allegations.

He returned home to the UK last Thursday morning after the government finally agreed to settle a £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s.

At a press conference at Portcullis House earlier this week Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe criticised the government for not getting her home sooner.

The British-Iranian said there had been five different foreign secretaries over the course of her six years in jail.

Morad Tahbaz, who has British, Iranian, and American citizenship, remains in detention in Iran

She said: “How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? Five?

“What’s happened now should have happened six years ago.”

Speaking for the first time since his release on the Beth Rigby Interviews programme on Sky News, Mr Ashoori said he agreed with her, and the debt should have been repaid earlier.

“I agree with Nazanin 100%, she in fact put her finger on the right button by saying that,” he said.

“She should have been here years ago if that debt was paid.

"That was not a ransom, that was a debt that the British government owed and it should have been paid. And if it had been paid, none of this would have happened.

“I feel a bit angry.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arrive in the UK after years of captivity in Iran (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

He added that prime minister Boris Johnson did not respond to the family’s requests for assistance and said he had ignored a voice note sent from Mr Ashoori in 2020.

“I received my second indictment partly because of the voice message I sent to Boris Johnson,” he said.

"I risked my safety but I managed to convey that message to him.

"Unfortunately he did not spend even five minutes to give a telephone call to my family."

However, on Monday, Mr Ashoori received an invitation to meet with the prime minister.

He told the Sky News politics editor: “Now he’s eager to see us. How would you interpret that?

"I think that there’s a bit of opportunism involved in it."

Roxanne Tahbaz says her father has been left behind.

Mr Ashoori said he was “not sure” whether he would see Johnson now.

Both he and Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe have used their first media interviews to highlight the plight of Mr Tahbaz, a 66-year-old conservationist, who has been left behind in Evin Prison.

"I feel so bitter that he was not on the plane with us,” Mr Ashoori said.

“I will not be quiet until he and the other dual nationals are released.”

Earlier this week LondonWorld spoke to Mr Tahbaz’s eldest daughter Roxanne who says her father feels forsaken by the government.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard Ratcliffe attend a press conference following her release from detention in Iran(Picture: Victoria Jones/Getty Images)

“He was the only UK born national from the group the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) was negotiating for that was left behind,” the 35-year-old business consultant said.

Mr Tahbaz, who has British, American and Iranian citizenship, was arrested in 2018 during a crackdown on environmental activists.

A prominent conservationist, he is a board member of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which seeks to protect endangered species.

Alongside seven others, he was accused of collecting classified information about Iran’s strategic areas under the pretext of carrying out environmental and scientific projects.

British-US national, Morad Tahbaz, remains imprisoned in Iran.

Ms Tahbaz, from Notting Hill, said her mother, who is stuck in Iran, also had a travel ban placed on her after her father was arrested.

She said: “I was surprised to see he was on furlough because we didn’t feel at all that he was on the furlough that we were promised.

“We were told it would be an unrestricted one and that my mother’s travel ban would be lifted - and neither turned out to be the case.

“Within 48 hours of arriving at the residence, he was then promptly ushered back to the prison where he remains now.”

Ms Tahbaz said that Nazanin and Anoosheh’s release feels like a double-edged sword as “you can see that there are results but the deal has been done and he has been left behind”.

Prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: UK Government

She added: “It does beg the question what chip is left to play, because the leverage feels like it could have gone now.

“There is some concern about what they can actually do for us even though we were promised that he was going to be included in those negotiations for all of the hostages.”

An FCDO spokesperson said: “We are in close contact with Morad’s family, who have told us that he has now been taken back into Evin prison.

“We are urgently raising Morad’s case with the Iranian authorities.

“He must be allowed to return to his family’s home in Tehran immediately, as the Iranian government committed to doing.”

A No10 spokesperson said: “From the Prime Minister down, this government has been committed to securing the release of Anoosheh Ashoori.

“It was always entirely in Iran’s gift to do this, but UK ministers and diplomats were tireless in working to secure his freedom and are delighted that he is now home.

“Our Consular team were in close regular contact with Anoosheh’s family, with officials available to them at any time throughout his ordeal.”