British citizen jailed in Iran begins new hunger strike

Husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe starts ‘continual vigil’ outside embassy in London

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has begun a 24-hour vigil outside the Iranian embassy in London, while also joining her in a hunger strike. Video: Reuters

 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – the British-Iranian mother jailed in Iran on spying charges – has begun a new hunger strike, her husband has said.

Richard Ratcliffe said he had received a phone call from his wife to tell him she had informed the Iranian judiciary she had stopped taking food in protest at her “unfair imprisonment”.

Mr Ratcliffe said he would also not eat for the duration of her protest.

He said his wife’s decision followed the fifth birthday of their daughter, Gabriella, who has not been allowed to leave Iran following her mother’s arrest in 2016 and is living with her grandparents.

“This is something she had been threatening for a while,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

“Nazanin had vowed that if we passed Gabriella’s fifth birthday with her still inside, then she would do something – to mark to both governments that ‘enough is enough’. This really has gone on too long.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife sounded “nervous, but calm” when she spoke to him from prison.

“Her demand from the strike, she said, is for unconditional release. She has long been eligible for it. I do not know the response from the Iranian authorities,” he said.

“Given Nazanin’s decision, I will also begin a continual vigil in front of the Iranian embassy, perhaps occasionally joined by friends and family,” he said.

“During this vigil I will also not eat, and will continue this fast until such time as her hunger strike ends.

“I vowed last time that if she ever went on hunger strike again, we would not leave her to go through this ordeal alone.”

Undated family photo of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella. File photograph: Family Handout/PA Wire
Undated family photo of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard and their daughter Gabriella. File photograph: Family Handout/PA Wire

Mr Ratcliffe said as he began his hunger strike: “[Nazanin] has been on hunger strike before, it achieved something, but not much. “I said that if she did it again I would stand in solidarity with her. “A hunger strike in prison, nobody gets to see it, a hunger strike here is much more public. “I will keep her story public.”

Speaking to whoever will be chosen as the next British prime minister, Mr Ratcliffe said: “It’s really important to protect British citizens from being held unfairly, innocent and abroad.

“I want whoever becomes prime minister, one of their top priorities is to make sure they protect British citizens from unfair imprisonment, from torture, from the horrible stuff. Make this a part of your premiership.”

Friends and family of the Ratcliffes gathered outside the Iranian embassy in Knightsbridge. The crowd sang Happy Birthday to daughter Gabrielle via Facetime, after she turned five on June 11th, and shared a birthday cake shaped like a unicorn.

Notorious

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on April 3rd, 2016, at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport as she prepared to board a plane with Gabriella back to the UK after visiting relatives.

The 40-year-old is serving a five-year sentence in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt granted Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe diplomatic protection in March, but Tehran refuses to acknowledge her dual nationality.

Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to be the next prime minister, risked complicating Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case when he said as foreign secretary in 2017 that she had been teaching people journalism in Iran. He later clarified his comments saying she had been on holiday.

In January, she refused food for three days in protest at the decision of the prison authorities to deny her access to medical treatment.

Mr Ratcliffe, who is calling for his wife’s immediate release, urged the Iranian authorities to allow British embassy officials to visit her to check on her health.

He said that if she was not freed within the next few weeks, he wanted the Iranians to grant a visa so he could visit her himself.

Amnesty International UK’s director Kate Allen said her plight was “truly heartbreaking”.

“Nazanin is a prisoner of conscience, unfairly jailed after a sham trial and subjected to all manner of torments – including months in solitary confinement and endless game-playing over whether she would receive vital medical care,” she said.

“It’s shocking that it’s come to this, and we and countless people across the country fervently hope the Iranian authorities will now finally do the right thing and release Nazanin.” – PA