Nazanin husband reveals Boris Johnson walked past his hunger strike

British ministers insist Iran £400m debt will not be handed over for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood accused of a personal snub to a hunger strike in support of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, as his government on Tuesday said her predicament would not provide leverage for the release of £400 million ($537m) the UK owes Iran.

Foreign Minister James Cleverly vowed that while the government would work to free political prisoners such as Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe it would not allow the regime to use jailed UK citizens for “diplomatic leverage”.

During a packed Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, some MPs reacted with shock when it was disclosed Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard had seen Boris Johnson walk past him while he was on hunger strike outside Whitehall.

The British Prime Minister — accused of inflaming the situation in 2017 when he stated that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iraq “simply teaching people journalism”- has only met the family once, MPs heard.

“The prime minister did not visit me on hunger strike, though he did pass me one day without coming over”, Mr Ratcliffe said, in a letter read out by his MP Tulip Sadiq following his 21-day protest.

But the British government appears to be intent on not paying the cash to Tehran, despite both America and Germany doing so to free jailed citizens.

Following a cross-party torrent of pressure for the government to do more to secure her release, Mr Cleverly insisted he would not conflate the two issues.

“The UK government recognises we have a duty to legally repay this debt and we continue to explore all legal options to resolve this 40-year-old case,” he said referring to the pre-revolutionary Iranian government’s deal for 1,500 Chieftain tanks.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that we do not accept British dual nationals being used as diplomatic leverage.”

He insisted that the government would pressure Iran and would not relent “until she is fully and permanently released”.

Mr Cleverly said he was also seeking international co-operation to stop states from “arbitrarily detaining foreign nationals for commercial purposes”.

That view was echoed by former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who said that no country should make citizens “a pawn in a diplomatic game”, and there needed to be an international agreement to “end the vile practice of hostage diplomacy which needs to be consigned back to the 19th century where it belongs”.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has a seven-year-old daughter, has been detained in Iran since 2016. She is currently under house arrest after being released from prison, but is awaiting the start of a second jail term.

Ms Siddiq said that the £400m debt and her constituent’s release were linked. “What frustrates me so much is that every time I speak to the government they seem to be burying their heads in the sand, and denying the fact that there's a link”, the Labour MP said.

Updated: November 16th 2021, 7:03 PM
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