Anoosheh Ashoori: The forgotten man of the hostage crisis

The retired engineer spent five years in prison on false charges of spying for Israel

Anoosheh Ashoori with his wife Sherry before his arrest. Photo: Sherry Izadi
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Anoosheh Ashoori was a prisoner at Evin jail for five years but was always the less well known British-Iranian hostage held in Iran.

Mr Ashoori, 67, a retired engineer whose home is in London, was snatched off the street in Tehran in 2017 during a visit to see his mother and spent the next five years behind bars after being convicted of spying for Israel.

The charges, like those of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, were fabricated and he was added to the roster of western dual-nationals who were being used as pawns in a broader diplomatic battle between London and Tehran.

His fight for freedom was waged by his wife and two adult children from London, who were frequently frustrated by efforts to raise the profile of his case.

“Very few people know my name,” he wrote in an article for The Guardian newspaper published on his release.

He compiled an audio diary from behind bars for The National during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he detailed the chaotic response of the prison authorities to the crisis and the desperate conditions in which prisoners lived.

He told of how inmates with suspected coronavirus were given sleeping pills and fights broke out over food shortages.

“Last night, we placed a large saucepan under the radiator and you could hear the drops all through the night,” he said. “It was leaking and our elderly roommate, ‘Moses’, could not sleep in his bed as it was soaking wet.”

In a subsequent audio message to the leaders of Iran and UK, he said he feared he would never again be able to hug his wife and family because he could catch Covid-19 and die because of the poor medical assistance.

His loss of hope led to him trying to kill himself behind bars. He said that he faced a daily battle to remain sane. He spent time with a group of educated inmates who taught each other lessons from their lives.

His gave his own lessons based on a career dedicated to designing building materials for use in earthquake zones. They were used to rebuild the Iranian city of Bam after the 2003 earthquake left tens of thousands of people dead.

He was able to call his wife, Sherry, on Tuesday evening after being allowed to leave prison and return to his mother’s house in Tehran. He still had his doubts that he would be free.

“He told me, ‘I will believe it when I’m on the plane’,” she said.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 9:45 AM