A British-Iranian woman serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran on unspecified charges relating to national security is losing her hair and experiencing “low and despairing” moods as her incarceration lasts far beyond her family’s expectation.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s conviction was upheld by Iran’s supreme court in April, one year after her arrest. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has told the Guardian that he is now focusing on political pressure, urging the UK government to take up her case more seriously after recent elections in both countries.
Ratcliffe said while his wife’s physical health has become more stable, “she is applying to see a psychologist, as she says her mood is very unstable – quick to sink into depression”.
“We don’t know how long this will last,” he said. “We’ve had Iran’s elections and UK elections and there’s no obvious sign of anything moving, the whole court case is finished, there is basic powerlessness that there’s nothing we can do.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, was arrested in April 2016 while she and her then two-year-old daughter, Gabriella, were about to return to the UK after a family visit to Iran. Since then, she has spent most of her time in Tehran’s Evin prison, away from her daughter.
The Revolutionary Guards, the elite forces that arrested her at the airport, have accused her of attempting to orchestrate a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic. Her husband condemned the criminal charges as “a self-serving fabrication”, indicating in a petition update that her imprisonment might be connected to her work as a project manager at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, and her previous work at the BBC in London.
Iranian authorities loathe the BBC because of its Persian service, which is watched by millions of Iranians via illegal satellite dishes. Reuters journalists were expelled from Iran after their Tehran office was closed down in April 2012.
Ratcliffe said he is going to meet Alistair Burt, the new foreign office minister, next week. “Now that we’ve exhausted possibilities in Iran, it’s time to put the focus back on pushing the British government to do more,” he added.
“I don’t think the [UK] government has been protecting us; they have provided consular assistance and they have expressed concerns, and the ambassador has been to visit Gabriella to check she is OK, but in terms of criticising her treatment and saying it’s abuse, they’ve never said that this does not meet the minimum legal standards, that it’s not a fair trial. That this is a nonsense. She’s obviously not important enough yet.”
Ratcliffe said he was upset the UK government always emphasised that she is a dual national, “rather than she’s a British citizen”. “Iran can’t play these games, it doesn’t recognise dual citizenship on one hand and on the other hand, they’ve been holding her until she gets some sort of agreement with the British government.”
A string of dual nationals languish in Iranian jails, but exactly how many is unclear. One lawyer has put the number as high as 40. Among dual nationals behind bars are Karan Vafadari, an Iranian-American national belonging to the Zoroastrian faith, and his wife Afarin Neyssari. Kamal Foroughi, a British-Iranian businessman, has been imprisoned in Iran since 2011.
Also in jail is Ahmadreza Djalali, a scientist from Sweden. Foreign Policy reported this week that the UN chief, António Guterres, has reached out to Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, regarding the imprisonment of Iranian-American Baquer Namazi, a former Unicef official, who has been given 10 years alongside his son, Siamak Namazi.
“It seems to be that there are different motives at different times but broadly, Nazanin was part of a wave of people that were taken for what feels to me internal politics between different parts of the Iranian regime fighting with each other,” Ratcliffe said.
“There clearly is a phenomenon, it’s got a domestic policy aspect, it’s got a foreign policy aspect and it’s something that we’ve been pushing the UN special rapporteur to try and take up – you cannot hold people like this as a tool of foreign policy.”
He said he recognised that Rouhani was not driving the treatment of his wife but appealed for him to help. “She was taken by the Revolutionary Guards, and the judiciary – it’s a different part of the regime – [but Rouhani] can make it very clear that this has to stop; it’s not good for Iran. Normal Iranians are being held like this. It’s affecting Iran’s image globally.
“Nazanin voted for President Rouhani this time, she voted for President Rouhani last time, that really was with a view that his promises of improving civil rights and of allowing Iran to become a normal, proud country.”
Ratcliffe said his wife’s case had been “hijacked by opposition figures” that pictures from their campaign were “used by those who want to justify very strong action against Iran”.
“It just looks terrible … allowing those voices that want to do terrible things to Iran to point and say, ‘look what these people are doing’, I think the human cost of it is not small.”
An official from the Iranian embassy in London told the Guardian in April that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained “due to her illegal acts”, but she had access to medical care and could visit her family.
Earlier this month, she was able to meet her daughter in prison during a family visit, marking her third birthday. “She was able to make a cherry cake, which the family were allowed to take home to eat,” according to a petition update posted by her husband.
The British-Iranian wrote a letter addressed to her daughter from inside prison, according to Iran’s defenders of human rights centre. In it, she recounted memories of her birth, “times of feeding and sleeping, and the hiccups and the non-stop sneezes”.
“But those sweet and beautiful days did not last long,” she wrote. “Our trip to Iran last Norouz , when you were 22 months, was one of no return.
“The past 14 months, my share of you is only the occasional hour in the visiting room at Evin prison. How young you are to be forced to go through such a horrible experience?”
Source: The Guardian