“I am so grateful”: those were the four words chosen by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after she thanked her family in Iran and the UK, in particular her husband and daughter; politicians; the middle; her lawyer for her in Iran; her friends of her; her medical team; and the relatives of his fellow prisoners.
It was a lengthy list, summing up her gratitude to so many for the part they played in securing her freedom.
Yet according to the “ungrateful” hashtag trending on Twitter last night, Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been insufficiently grateful to the UK government for its role in her release. The hashtag “send her back” is now also trending.
why? Well, it seems that a legion of (mostly anonymous) keyboard warriors took umbrage when she asked how many foreign secretaries it took to return a British detainee. “Five? What’s happened now should have happened six years ago.”
David Bannerman, a former Conservative MEP for the East of England, retweeted an anonymous account sniping: “The words you’re desperately searching for are ‘many thanks to the British government and taxpayers for paying the £400 million ransom…’”
Bannerman added for good measure: “I do hope she’s not biting the hand that saved her. Does she bear no responsibility for being in a country with such a nasty regime?”
Perhaps Zaghari-Ratcliffe frustrated Bannerman’s expectations of how a female hostage should look and behave. At her press conference yesterday she was poised, dignified, joyful – and, yes, angry. In the view of many watching: rightly so.
This is a woman who spent six years in and out of the hellish Evin jail, in and out of solitary confinement, brutally isolated from the husband and daughter she loved and cherished, banished from the country she had for nearly a decade called home.
Why had it taken so long for the authorities to extricate her? The £400m Iran paid the UK for Chieftain tanks which were never delivered was, the British government belatedly admitted, a “legitimate” debt. As such, it could and should have been repaid by the UK years ago.
The excuse that it was hard to reimburse Iran because of sanctions doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, as there was a window of opportunity in 2016 when sanctions were lifted.
That said, and as I acknowledged last week, there’s no denying the hard graft of Foreign Office officials, and successive foreign secretaries. But Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her family and the media are entitled to ask some very tough questions of the government.
Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt – one of the five who tried to free Nazanin from Iran – put it perfectly when he tweeted: “She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation.”
He went on to say candidly: “She’s absolutely right that it took too long to bring her home. I tried my best – as did other foreign secretaries – but if trying our best took six years then we must be honest and say the problem should have been solved earlier.”
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Hunt suggested several reasons for the delay – including ministerial turnover, a reluctance to pay an apparent ransom and “complications” over how to pay a country that is sanctioned – and backed an independent investigation into what went wrong. As he pointed out: “This kind of open scrutiny as to whether we could do things better is what happens in democratic, open societies.”
Perhaps Zaghari-Ratcliffe will also take a rueful pleasure in the fact that she is now once again living in a country where people can express their views freely, on Twitter and elsewhere. And as a woman strong enough to survive all the physical and mental privations the Iranian authorities chose to throw at her, I have no doubt she can withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous Tweeters.
To misquote Helen Reddy: “She is woman, hear her roar.” In Britain we do. And Amen to that.
Cathy Newman presents Channel 4 News at 7pm
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.