Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband starts new hunger strike in tent protest

Britain has failed to press the Iranians hard enough to release his wife, Richard Ratcliffe says

The husband of British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent Sunday night sleeping on the streets of London after he began another hunger strike in protest at the UK government’s failure to secure her return.

Richard Ratcliffe started his demonstration outside the Foreign Office, where he plans to sleep in a tent.

The Free Nazanin campaign group said police were called out to remove Mr Ratcliffe's tent at 3.45am but allowed him to stay the night.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first held in Tehran in April 2016 on charges of espionage and has served a full five-year jail term.

She was sentenced to another year behind bars in April. She is living with her parents in Tehran and cannot leave the country. She lost a second appeal eight days ago, a decision that led to Mr Ratcliffe's latest protest.

Mr Ratcliffe’s latest hunger strike is focused on the UK’s efforts to secure his wife's release after complaints that she was being held because of the failure of the UK to pay a debt from an unfulfilled arms deal from the 1970s.

He said that four foreign secretaries have repeated Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s assertion that “no stone would be left unturned” to secure her release, without much progress in her case.

Mr Ratcliffe said the government has done "nothing to disincentivise Iran’s hostage taking".

He said "Nazanin was increasingly distraught last week" after hearing the news that her appeal was rejected.

"For us, reimprisonment is too late, it would mean not seeing Nazanin until 2023," Mr Ratcliffe said.

"Just before the news, we had a very bleak meeting with the Foreign Office, ending with me telling them I had no confidence in their strategy and their reluctance to act. They still do not settle the debt to Iran whose impasse in 2016 caused Nazanin to be taken."

He said Tehran "remains the primary abuser in Nazanin's case", but "the UK is also letting us down".

It is “indefensible and unacceptable” that Iran has rejected Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s appeal against the new charges made against her, Middle East minister James Cleverly has said.

“We continue to call on Iran to let her return home to the UK immediately,” Mr Cleverly told MPs in the Commons.

Labour MP Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) said it was her eighth urgent question on Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe after being detained for “five harrowing years in Iran on false charges”.

“Today Richard (Ratcliffe) is on hunger strike on the Foreign Secretary’s doorstep in Whitehall pleading with her and the Prime Minister to do more to challenge Iran’s hostage-taking and to bring Nazanin home," Ms Siddiq said.

“Going on hunger strike is the absolute last resort for anyone and Richard told me that he feels that there’s no other option left because he feels our government’s response to his wife’s case has been pitiful.”

Mr Ratcliffe, she said, “has come today to the gallery to listen to this urgent question”.

“Will the minister acknowledge that Nazanin is a hostage of the Iranian state? Secondly will the Government bring forward Magnitsky sanctions on those involved in this hostage taking and challenge Iran on it in the courts?" Ms Siddiq asked.

“Will the government finally fulfil the promise of resolving the £400 million debt that we as a country owe Iran and will he work to secure a commitment to end hostage-taking in negotiations around the Iran nuclear deal?”

Responding, Mr Cleverly said: “I can assure this house that the safety and welfare of all British dual nationals detained in Iran remains the top priority for the UK government and we will continue to raise our concerns with our Iranian interlocutors at every level, and we will not stop until those who have been detained unjustly are at home with their loved ones.”

“Iran must release British dual nationals who have been arbitrarily detained so that they can return home. The Foreign Secretary spoke with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe on October 16 and 17 respectively.

“The UK government from the prime minister down remains fully committed to doing everything we can to help them return home.

“We continue to raise their cases at the most senior levels and discuss them at every opportunity with our Iranian counterparts.

“I can assure her that the UK continues to have this as one of our top priorities and is the focus of all the conversations that we have with Iran. She will understand that there are already a range of sanctions imposed against both individuals and entities in Iran from the UK and from international bodies.

“Of course, the Iranian regime would love to connect the cases of these British dual nationals with the IMS debt. We regard it as unhelpful to reinforce that link. We make the point very, very clearly that British dual nationals must not be used as a means of diplomatic leverage.

“Therefore, we continue to call on Iran to do the right thing, to release all the British dual nationals in incarceration and allow them to come home to their families and loved ones.”

Rupert Skilbeck, director of legal charity Redress, which is representing the family, 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.

“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.”

She is one of at least four British dual-nationals who are in Iran and are either in prison or unable to leave the country.

The charity and the family campaign submitted a dossier to new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss calling on the government to take a more robust approach to Iran by imposing sanctions on 10 officials linked to Iranian hostage-taking.

Sacha Deshmukh, the chief executive of Amnesty International UK, said the government "should set out a clearly-articulated strategy for how it intends to secure the release" of British nationals being held in Iran.

“It’s so incredibly upsetting that it’s come to this," he said.

“Like Richard, we’ve grown tired of hearing ministers saying they’re ‘doing all they can’ for Nazanin and other arbitrarily-detained Britons in Iran - it doesn’t look like that to us, and it certainly hasn’t produced results.

Mr Ratcliffe went on hunger strike in June 2019 for 15 days in solidarity with his wife, who took the same action behind bars.

He camped outside the Iranian embassy in London, where he was visited by more than 100 MPs and received increased publicity for her case.

Iran has repeatedly changed its explanations as to why Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held and the grounds on which she could be released.

After accusing her of espionage, Iran later said she could be released if the UK settled an unpaid debt incurred during the rule of Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Britain is believed to owe around £400 million (Dh1.95 billion) for 1,500 Chieftain tanks ordered by the Pahlavi regime before his overthrow in 1979, but fewer than 200 were delivered following the revolution.

In September, however, Iran linked Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release to the UK supporting a full lifting of trade sanctions, imposed by Washington in 2018. Britain, the EU and the US insist that sanctions cannot be fully lifted until Iran allows UN inspectors access to its nuclear research sites.

Updated: October 25th 2021, 7:22 PM
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