A British-Iranian woman serving a five-year jail sentence in Iran is at breaking point after going on hunger strike in protest against her incarceration, according to her husband.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, is being held at Tehran’s Evin prison. In September she was found guilty of offences relating to national security, but the precise reason for her arrest has not been clarified.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the elite forces that arrested her in April at Tehran’s international airport, where she and her then 22-month-old daughter, Gabriella, had been about to return to the UK after a family visit, have accused her of fomenting a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic republic – allegations that her husband has said are untrue.
According to Amnesty, Iranian authorities have hinted that her arrest is connected to the imprisonment in 2014 of several employees of an Iranian technology news website. They were given lengthy prison terms for participating in a BBC journalism training course. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was a project assistant at the BBC’s Media Action in 2008-2009.
The Iranian authorities loathe the BBC because of its London-based Persian service, watched by millions of Iranians via illegal satellite dishes which are mushrooming on rooftops around the country.
“She is at breaking point,” her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told the Guardian. “When [Iranian-Canadian professor] Homa Hoodfar was released [in September], she was really hopeful that she would be next and she got moved into a big room. She was very excited. Then she got moved back to a small room, which sent her down to a sense that nothing is going to happen, and that’s when she started feeling suicidal.”
Ratcliffe said he last spoke to his wife a week ago but only found out about the hunger strike late last week when her family were summoned to the prison.
“They received a call on Thursday to go to Evin prison on Friday for an emergency visit for the whole family. It had never happened before,” he said. “Her mum was just really shocked by how much she had deteriorated. She was complaining about pain in her hands, arms and neck and that she was having strange palpitations, and that she was having blurred vision – clearly the impact of her diet, her long incarceration. When her mum saw her on Friday, her mum passed out.”
Iran does not recognise dual nationality but an official from the Iranian embassy in London told the Guardian on Monday that many dual nationals travelled to Iran without a difficulty and that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment had nothing to do with her dual nationality status.
“Dual nationality should not be seen as a protection against the application of Iranian law. Dual nationals will be subject to the same legal processes as for Iranians and should not be expecting that any exception from legal process would be applied to them as an advantage,” the Iranian official said.
The official said Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been “detained due to her illegal acts”. “Her dual nationality or having a small child are not sufficient ground or justification to disregard her illegal acts,” they added. “Unfortunately her husband has tried pressurising the Iranian legal system to go beyond legal requirements and pardon her. Her case is not relevant whatsoever to the other issues and is considered on its own merits.”
The Iranian official said Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer had appealed against the sentence, which was under review. “Mrs Zaghari while in prison has full access to family members, her kid, lawyer, social worker, physician, and other necessary facilities. She also has the right to regularly meet her family including parents and particularly her beloved kid. She has full access to legal counselling.”
Monique Villa, chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, expressed concern about Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s precarious health. She said: “Nazanin … had started a hunger strike five days before [the family’s visit] and on seeing her, Nazanin’s mother fainted. She later persuaded Nazanin to eat some cheese. Her daughter Gabriella was present and was traumatised by the whole scene.”
It is not known whether Zaghari-Ratcliffe resumed her hunger strike over the weekend, but Villa said the situation was deeply worrying, as was the continued “silence of the Foreign Office and the British government on the whole issue. Seven months after her arrest and two months after her condemnation to five years in jail, without any known charges, Nazanin who is a British-Iranian national, has still not received a visit from the British ambassador or any member of the embassy in Tehran. What more does the British government need to act promptly?”
Philip Luther, director at Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme, said the news of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s declining health was deeply alarming.
“Her imprisonment on spurious ‘national security’ charges has been utterly unjust,” he said. “After her arrest, she was separated from her baby daughter and held in solitary confinement for 45 days. Instead of prolonging her pain and suffering, the Iranian authorities must end her ordeal by releasing her immediately and unconditionally.
“Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ordeal has caused her immense despair and suffering. It is shocking that the Iranian authorities are adding to her pain by failing to grant her adequate medical care.”
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