Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘held hostage’ by Iran, says husband

UK government urged to attend trial on Sunday of British-Iranian dual national

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe




Zaghari-Ratcliffe has served four years of a five-year sentence and is being held under a form of house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran.
Photograph: Family Handout/PA

Iran’s decision to press fresh charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is illegal and shows she is being held as a hostage, her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has said.

He called on the British government to do everything possible to protect her, include demanding UK officials are allowed to attend her trial on Sunday.

Iranian judicial officials told Zaghari-Ratcliffe at a hearing on Tuesday that she was facing fresh charges. The British-Iranian dual national has already served four years of a five-year sentence, and is being held under a form of house arrest at her parents’ home in Tehran.

Timeline

Imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran

Arrest in Tehran

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is arrested at Imam Khomeini airport as she is trying to return to Britain after a holiday visiting family with her daughter, Gabriella.

Release campaign begins

Her husband, Richard Radcliffe, delivers a letter to David Cameron in 10 Downing Street, demanding the government do more for her release.

Sentenced

She is sentenced to five years in jail. Her husband says the exact charges are still being kept a secret.

Hunger strike

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s health deteriorates after she spends several days on hunger strike in protest at her imprisonment.

Appeal fails

Iran’s supreme court upholds her conviction.

Boris Johnson intervenes

Boris Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, tells a parliamentary select committee “When we look at what [she] was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism”. Four days after his comments, Zaghari-Ratcliffe is returned to court, where his statement is cited in evidence against her. Her employers, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, deny that she has ever trained journalists, and her family maintain she was in Iran on holiday. Johnson is eventually forced to apologise for the “distress and anguish” his comments cause the family.

Health concerns

Her husband reveals that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has fears for her health after lumps had been found in her breasts that required an ultrasound scan, and that she was now “on the verge of a nervous breakdown”.

Hunt meets husband

New Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt meets with Richard Ratcliffe, and pledges “We will do everything we can to bring her home.”

Temporary release

She is granted a temporary three-day release from prison.

Hunger strike

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on hunger strike again, in protest at the withdrawal of her medical care.

Diplomatic protection

The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, takes the unusual step of granting her diplomatic protection – a move that raises her case from a consular matter to the level of a dispute between the two states.

Travel warning

The UK upgrades its travel advice to British-Iranian dual nationals, for the first time advising against all travel to Iran. The advice also urges Iranian nationals living in the UK to exercise caution if they decide to travel to Iran.

Hunger strike in London

Richard Ratcliffe joins his wife in a new hunger strike campaign. He fasts outside the Iranian embassy in London as she begins a third hunger strike protest in prison.

Hunger strike ends

Zaghari-Ratcliffe ends her hunger strike by eating some breakfast. Her husband also ends his strike outside the embassy.

Moved to mental health ward

According to her husband, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was moved from Evin prison to the mental ward of Imam Khomeini hospital, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have prevented relatives from contacting her.

Daughter returns to London

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s five year old daughter Gabriella, who has lived with her grandparents in Tehran and regularly visited her mother in jail over the last three years, returns to London in order to start school.

Temporary release

Amid the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, she is temporarily released from prison, but will be required to wear an ankle brace and not move more than 300 metres from her parents’ home.

New charges

Iranian state media reports that she will appear in court to face new and unspecified charges.

In a statement, Ratcliffe said: “It has become increasingly clear the past months that Nazanin is a hostage, held as leverage against a UK debt. It is important that the UK government does everything to protect her and others as Iran’s hostage diplomacy continues to escalate.

“This starts with the British embassy insisting it is able to attend Nazanin’s trial on Sunday, and that the UK’s diplomatic protection is treated with respect.

“While we felt close to release these past few months, yesterday Nazanin was taken to the revolutionary court for a reopened second court case. Her trial will be on Sunday. The case is illegal under Iranian law, as is the fact Nazanin was not already released back in March.”

Ratcliffe added: “There is only so much abuse one person can take. Nazanin was asking today has she not had her share? The government needs to think about who will be taken next, and whether soft diplomacy stops the spread of state hostage-taking.”

He said his wife was an emotional wreck, totally drained, and suffering from claustrophobia.

He also disclosed the second charge against her was a revived charge of propaganda against the regime, a charge first levied against her by the Iranian prosecutors in October 2017, and then confirmed in the eyes of the Iranian media when Boris Johnson mistakenly said in November 2017 that she had only been training journalists.

Johnson, the foreign secretary at the time, made the error at a Commons select committee hearing, and he subsequently insisted she had only been in Iran at the time of her arrest in April 2016 to see her parents.

Explaining the origins of the second charge against her, Ratcliffe said in his statement the propaganda charge was “first raised against Nazanin in October 2017, was subsequently blamed on the then foreign secretary, now prime minister Boris Johnson’s comments in November 2017 and reassigned to Judge Abolghasem Salavati, the judge handling her case. Following the foreign secretary’s trip to Iran in December 2017 this case was then closed. However, it was reopened again in May 2018.”

Ratcliffe also stressed Johnson’s direct remarks at the select committee were not included in the evidence file, even though that may change at the hearing. He said it had always been feared the second charges would be pressed, and that they appear to have come at a time of extra pressure on British-Iranian dual nationals in Iran.

He said: “The latest escalation from Iran’s judiciary can be seen as an attempt to press the UK to speed up how it is dealing with the parallel issue of a debt,” referring to a £400m debt owed to Iran by the UK, which was formally acknowledged last week by the defence secretary, Ben Wallace.

Ratcliffe said: “Behind closed doors we have been discussing with the UK Foreign Office its strategic approach to Iran’s hostage-taking. Currently, this is not working at keeping people safe, but is leading to more risk.”