Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 October 2020

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: British-Iranian prisoner suspected to have coronavirus

UK Foreign Office is urging prison officials to test her for the illness

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been in prison in Tehran since 2016 on espionage charges. AFP
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman who has been in prison in Tehran since 2016 on espionage charges. AFP

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national that has been detained in Tehran, is suspected to have coronavirus, her family has said.

The 41-year-old dual national, who has been held in Evin Prison since 2016, issued a statement via the Free Nazanin campaign on Saturday.

“I am not good. I feel very bad in fact. It is a strange cold. Not like usual. I know the kinds of cold I normally have, how my body reacts,” she said.

“This is different. I am just as bad as I was. I often get better after three days. But with this there is no improvement. I haven’t got one bit better.”

The campaign said it believes she has contracted coronavirus inside the capital's notorious Evin Prison, mainly due due to lack of hygiene materials for inmates.

"We are concerned by the prison authorities' refusal to test her, and the wider suppression of coronavirus inside the Iranian prison system," the statement said.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, called on the British government to ensure she is immediately tested for Covid-19 by officials at the jail.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was reported to have a sore throat for more than five days, after first experiencing a runny nose and a cough.

“Now I have this continual cold sweat, I have a temperature, though not all the time,” she said in the statement.

“I have difficulty breathing and pain in my muscles, and fatigue. I do not pant, but I am finding it hard to breathe. And I am just very, very tired. I have a real tiredness, and a heavy head. I am too tired to do anything.

She added that she had been shivering every night and her symptoms did not feel like a normal cold.

There are no confirmed cases of the virus in the jail but Iran is one of the worst affected countries from the outbreak – 43 people have died out of at least 593 identified cases.

But human rights groups have expressed concern at the lack of hygiene provisions for prisoners in Iran. On Friday the Centre for Human Rights in Iran said it was "extremely concerned" by reports that prisoners in Iran lack access to medicines as well as hygiene and sanitary products amid fast rising death toll from the Covid-19 outbreak in the country.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport while travelling to visit her family for Nowruz, Iranian New Year, in April 2016. She was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of espionage.

The prosecutor general of Tehran said in October 2017 that she was detained for running journalism course and “training people to spread propaganda against Iran". She denies the charges.

Commenting on the case, the British Foreign Office said: “We are urgently seeking information from the Iranian authorities on reports that coronavirus is spreading in Evin prison, including to British-Iranian dual nationals.

“We call on the Iranian government to immediately allow health professionals into Evin prison to assess the situation of British-Iranian dual nationals there.”

Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s constituency, said on Saturday she was “very concerned” to hear that she may have caught coronavirus in prison.

“Shockingly, Iranian authorities are refusing to test her or move her away from the jail despite the outbreak. Government must intervene to push Iran to ensure the safety of Nazanin and other British prisoners,” she said.

Ms Siddiq later spoke to Mr Ratcliffe, who she said was “very shaken”. Mr Ratcliffe said that the whole family was “terrified for her safety”.

The MP said she will be raising the issue urgently in Parliament on Monday.

Updated: March 1, 2020 02:10 AM

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