Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: footage of British mother's arrest emerges

Dramatic video was released just days before British mother is due to start hunger strike against poor treatment in her Tehran prison cell

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Wednesday 09 January 2019 13:31 GMT
Footage of Nazanian Zagahri-Ratcliffe's arrest aired on Iranian state TV documentary

Iran’s state TV Channel 3 has broadcast previously unseen footage of the arrest of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in a report that accuses the jailed British charity worker of being an “agent” of the UK’s “soft warfare” against the Islamic Republic.

The dramatic 48-minute propaganda piece entitled “Out of View 2: Infiltration” was posted on the Iranian judiciary’s website Mizan on Tuesday, just days before Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 40, is set to start a hunger strike against poor treatment in jail.

At the close of the report is footage of the British-Iranian dual national being taken aside at Tehran airport in April 2016, when she was attempting to return home to London with her toddler daughter, Gabriella, after holidaying in the country.

The clip, filmed with a hidden camera, shows a confused and terrified looking Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe being questioned and eventually marched off to detention.

“Are you going to London?” an officer asks Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe as she stands by her luggage holding her passport. After she replies in the affirmative, a man identifying himself as a representative of the prosecutor’s office tells her that an arrest warrant had been issued for her.

“You are banned from travel and you need to come with us to the prosecutor’s office, where the prosecutor’s assistant will tell you about your allegations and your problem will be resolved,” the man adds.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was later held in solitary confinement for eight months, before being handed a five-year jail sentence on espionage charges, which she denies.

The film accuses the UK of trying to “infiltrate” Iran through the BBC’s Persian language channel.

It denounces Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe as being one of the “main agents” in this alleged infiltration because of her work with the BBC ahead of the launch of the Persian network in early 2009.

But the BBC told The Independent that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe never worked for BBC Persian and only assisted the corporation at a junior level before the channel was started.

At the time of her arrest in 2016, the mother-of-one was working for the charitable wing of Thomson Reuters Foundation and was not operating in Iran.

“To run the TV, they needed to train their forces and establish a network inside Iran and identify experts,” the film says, describing Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe as one of the “main agents of soft warfare” in this regard.

A BBC spokesman told The Independent: "Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe never worked for BBC Persian. She briefly worked for the BBC’s international development charity in a junior administrative role based in London. To claim that being employed by BBC Media Action for a short time constitutes working to ‘infiltrate’ the Iranian regime is ridiculous."

As alleged evidence, the film looks to the disastrous address that Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary, gave the House of Commons in 2017 when he erroneously said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been in Iran teaching journalists at the time of her arrest. He was later forced to retract the comment.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family maintain she was on holiday in Tehran in 2016. They believe she is being held by the Iranian authorities as a bargaining chip in an ongoing diplomatic battle with the British authorities. She is one of more than a dozen dual nationals who are believed to be behind bars in Iran on similar national security charges.

The video was broadcast just a week before Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is due to start a three-day extendable hunger strike in protest of being barred access to urgent medical care.

Prison officials have refused to refer her to specialists for lumps in her breasts or a painful neurological condition that causes numbness and temporary paralysis in her arms and neck.

Husband of Nazanin Zaghari Ratcliffe gives Christmas update on British charity worker jailed Iran

This week, prison guards also blocked her weekly phone calls to her husband and reduced her food rations.

Richard Ratcliffe, her husband, said Iranian security services had “cherry-picked” his wife for “leverage in their games” and called the allegations against her in the report “malicious defamation”.

“The most shocking part for Nazanin – who told me this morning that the programme was shown in prison – was that they showed secret footage of Nazanin’s arrest, the part once Gabriella had been taken from her and could be edited out of the story,” he told The Independent.

“I wrote last week to foreign minister [Mohammad Javad] Zarif to note that I regarded such allegations as malicious defamation. Though that battle is for another time. There are more pressing things to survive this and next week.”

He added: “Continually filming someone from the worry of first arbitrary arrest, while you keep them in solitary and then bring them for interrogations and then conviction, and then revealing a drip feed of this footage for domestic propaganda is one of its most abusive practices. It creates a voyeurism of punishment which brings shame to all involved.”

Tulip Siddiq, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP in Hampstead, spoke out about her case in the House of Commons on Tuesday, warning that she may not survive a hunger strike.

Ms Siddiq once again urged the government to grant her diplomatic protection.

“What action will the minister take to save this woman’s life?” she asked, apparently referring to the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

At the time of her arrest, the Hampstead resident was separated from her toddler daughter, who remains in Iran and whom she is infrequently allowed to see. She has not seen her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, who is barred from entering the country, since her arrest two and half years ago.

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