Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband begins second hunger strike in Downing Street

Richard Ratcliffe did the same outside London’s Iranian embassy in 2019 and refused food for 15 days

Sam Hancock
Sunday 24 October 2021 18:21
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Related video: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe begins new hunger strike in Iran jail

The husband of jailed British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is once again staging a hunger strike in protest at the government’s failure to secure his wife’s return to the UK.

Richard Ratcliffe made the dramatic decision following the recent news that his wife had lost her appeal against a second jail sentence in Iran, prompting him to accuse Boris Johnson’s cabinet of failing to deal with problems “until they become crises”.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, now 42, was jailed for five years in Tehran back in 2016 after being accused of plotting against the country’s regime. Following her release earlier this year, she was charged and sentenced to another year allegedly for spreading propaganda.

The mother-of-one is currently living with her parents in Tehran but is unable to leave the country and risks being sent back to prison at any time after losing the appeal.

Mr Ratcliffe previously said his wife was “traumatised at the thought of having to go back to jail”. He now hopes the hunger strike will force the UK government to do more to secure her freedom.

It marks the second time he has taken such action in two years after a hunger strike outside London’s Iranian embassy in 2019, which saw him refuse food for 15 days. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe did the same from her prison cell in Tehran.

In an online petition, titled Hungry for Justice Still, Mr Ratcliffe said he would be striking outside both Downing Street and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) following “bleak” meetings with the new foreign secretary, Liz Truss, in which he claims to have said he had “no confidence in [her office’s] strategy”.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe embracing her daughter Gabriella in Damavand, Iran

He also used the online page to criticise ministers for failing to settle an old debt with Iran, which defence secretary Ben Wallace infamously acknowledged to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyers for the first time in 2020. Mr Ratcliffe wrote it was this “impasse” that “caused Nazanin to be taken” in the first place.

The charge is related to an alleged unfulfilled arms deal from the 1970s, with Britain thought to owe the Middle Eastern country as much as £400m.

A spokeswoman for the FCDO branded Iran’s decision to proceed with the “baseless” charges against Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe “an appalling continuation of the cruel ordeal she is going through”.

She added: “Instead of threatening to return Nazanin to prison, Iran must release her permanently so she can return home. We are doing all we can to help Nazanin get home to her young daughter and family and we will continue to press Iran on this point.”

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq, who represents Hampstead and Kilburn, the London constituency where Mr Ratcliffe and Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe live with their daughter Gabriella, now six, described the news of Mr Ratcliffe’s Whitehall protest as “heartbreaking”.

“It should never have come to this,” she said on Twitter, adding in a statement: “It’s time for the government to listen to the demands of Nazanin’s family, including paying the debt we owe to Iran, and finally bring her home.”

Rupert Skilbeck, the director of legal charity Redress, which is running a legal campaign for the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, said: “It’s deeply worrying that Richard Ratcliffe has felt compelled to resort once again to a life-threatening measure to bring attention to the desperate plight of his family.”

He added: “Five years on, we have only seen setback after setback. The UK government’s approach is clearly not working. It’s time to stand up to perpetrators of hostage-taking by sanctioning those who perpetuate this reprehensible practice, and to bring Nazanin home.”

When Mr Ratcliffe last went on hunger strike, he was visited by dozens of MPs, garnered worldwide publicity for his wife’s case, and sped up the process of his daughter returning from Iran where she had been living with her grandparents since Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s detainment.

Gabriella has not seen her mother for two years, since she returned to the UK in October 2019. Mr Ratcliffe, on the other hand, has not seen his wife in person since 2016.

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