Jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'eligible for early release'

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Media captionRichard Ratcliffe tells the BBC: "Formally, on the system, she's eligible to be released at any point."

British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Iran for 18 months, has been told she is eligible for early release, her husband has said.

Richard Ratcliffe told BBC Radio 5 Live that an Iranian judiciary database had listed her as "eligible for release".

He said her lawyer was "hopeful" when he visited her in prison on Wednesday.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since April 2016 after being accused of spying - charges she denies.

Her family have always maintained she was on holiday with her daughter.

'Clearly hopeful'

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife's case had previously been marked as "closed", so the status change was "great news".

"Part of me is trying not to get too hopeful and just to keep calm just in case there is more to come," he said.

"But he (her lawyer) was clearly hopeful. He told her that it's a matter of finalising paperwork and it might be days to weeks rather than tomorrow morning.

"But definitely it feels like the end is much closer in sight."

Mr Ratcliffe said he felt there was a "change of the tide" since Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson travelled to Iran, as since then a second case against his 37-year-old wife was postponed and then cancelled.

"And now suddenly the database is shifting and saying eligible for early release," he said.

"She's still in prison but everything is feeling very positive."

Mr Johnson was in Iran for talks earlier this month and pressed for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release on humanitarian grounds.

Image copyright Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
Image caption Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran since April 2016

He had been accused of risking an additional five years being added to her sentence when he told a parliamentary committee that she had been in Iran to train journalists.

In November, he apologised in the Commons, retracting "any suggestion she was there in a professional capacity".

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said the news had given the family a "glimmer of light".

"It has given Nazanin a real boost of positive energy, and now we wait impatiently to see what happens next," she told the BBC.

"Although we do not want to celebrate prematurely, it would be the perfect Christmas gift to see Nazanin released and back with her family where she belongs."

Mr Ratcliffe said part of him was still hoping his wife would be home in time for Christmas.

"Definitely hopeful, we will be singing our carols with great gusto," he said.

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