UK minister makes appeal to Iran: free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

The British-Iranian dual national was arrested in 2016 and convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment

epa07721548 (FILE) - An undated handout photo made available by the Free Nazanin Campaign showing British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (L) with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella, reissued 17 July 2019. According to reports, on 17 July 2019 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe jailed in Iran for alleged spying, is now in a hospital psychiatric ward.  EPA/FREE NAZANIN CAMPAIGN / HANDOUT MANDATORY CREDIT: FREE NAZANIN CAMPAIGN HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES
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UK minister of state for the Middle East has made a personal appeal to Iran to release British-Iranian dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who is held in Tehran.

"Nazanin is of great importance to me, to the Foreign Secretary and to the government in general," Andrew Murrison – also a minister of state at the Department for International Development – told The National on Monday.

“I would appeal to Iran to resolve this and do the right thing and do the humane thing which is to return Nazanin to her family,” he said.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates -  Dr. Andrew Morrison, Minister of State at the Department for International Development and UK Minister of State for theÊMiddle East at the British Embassy, in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari for The National

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a programme co-ordinator with the charity, Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in 2016 at a Tehran airport as she was about to fly back to Britain with her daughter from a family visit.

She was sentenced to five years in jail after being convicted of plotting to overthrow Iran’s clerical establishment.

Her family and a charity organisation defending her, which operates independently of Thomson Reuters and Reuters News, deny the charge.

“It is very important that we ensure that Nazanin is released as soon as possible. The poor woman has suffered a great deal as has her family.”

Mr Murrison said he has raised the case of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other duel British nationals with his counterparts in Tehran during a recent visit.

But Richard Ratcliffe said last week that despite the new UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he felt a “deep sense of anguish” at Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight, he had not been invited to meet with the leader or Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to discuss his wife’s case.

Mr Raab has since invited Mr Ratcliffe to meet in early September.

“I want to make sure that there isn’t a hollowing out of commitments taken by his predecessor and I want to know how he personally sees things, how he is going to solve it and how he sees the UK-Iran relationship,” said Mr Ratcliffe.

Mr Ratcliffe has previously said he is “cross” at Mr Johnson’s failure to take responsibility when the-then foreign minister incorrectly stated Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was teaching journalism in Iran.

The comments were used by Iranian authorities to bolster their case against her.

“Obviously his mistake was part of what caused Nazanin to be where she is now. Not the reason why she got arrested but it didn’t help,” Mr Ratcliffe said in July.

He told the UK's Observer newspaper this week that he was worried his wife's harsh new jail conditions could lead to a deterioration in her mental health that might lead her to try and take her own life.

She has been prevented from calling Mr Ratcliffe in the UK and barred from seeing her five-year old daughter more than once a month.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has previously been on hunger strike in protest at her conditions. Mr Ratcliffe held a solidarity hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London where he was visited by numerous senior politicians as well as prominent figures in a protest that attracted significant media attention.

epa07680225 Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of imprisoned Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe poses for a portrait outside the Iranian Embassy in London, Britain, 28 June 2019. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has begun a new hunger strike in the Iranian jail. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was jailed for five years in Iran in 2016 after being convicted of spying, which she denies. Mr Ratcliffe is currently on day 14 of his hunger strike in solidarity with his wife.  EPA/WILL OLIVER

“The next escalation I would worry about is a more severe hunger strike where she ends up in hospital or a suicide attempt. I know she’s despairing and that’s what she’s been saying would happen next,” he told the Observer.

“She has regularly been talking about how she can’t go on. In my phone calls, I would try to give her reassurance that there are reasons to be hopeful. Obviously, that’s been taken away. For me, the worry is if she’s stopped from being given reasons to hope, in a context where she’s got reasons not to hope, it will affect her morale and what she then decides to do.”

He called on the UK and Iranian governments to do more to secure her release.

“You’ve got weeks to solve this now. I don’t care how, but you’ve got weeks to solve this before the situation deteriorates.”

Mr Murrison’s appeal came a day before Iran upheld the 10-year prison sentence for British Council staffer Aras Amiri who was charged with espionage.

Ms Amiri was arrested last year during a trip to visit a seriously ill grandparent. The British Council, which had its Iran office shut down a decade ago, is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities and is partly government-funded.

British-Iranian national Anouseh Ashouri was also sentenced to 12 years after being found guilty of sending intelligence to Israel and "for acquiring illegitimate wealth."