Anoosheh Ashoori to run London Marathon after Iran prison ‘hell’

Mr Ashoori urges British government to do more to help negotiate release of other detainees held by Tehran

Anoosheh Ashoori resolved to one day tackle the marathon while serving a minimum 10-year sentence in Iran’s Evin prison. Victoria Pertusa / The National
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Anoosheh Ashoori, who was jailed for almost five years in Iran on spying charges before being released along with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is set to run the London Marathon to raise money for two charities.

Mr Ashoori, 68, resolved to one day tackle the marathon while serving a minimum 10-year sentence in Iran’s Evin prison on charges he denied and the UK government condemned.

He was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran and was later convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, despite having lived in the UK for 20 years.

The retired civil engineer and fellow British-Iranian dual citizen Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was also detained under espionage charges, were released and flown back to the UK in March.

The former detainee, who now lives in Lee in Lewisham, south-east London, will run the marathon with his- 33-year-old son Aryan on October 2 to raise money and awareness for Amnesty International and Hostage International.

Both charities supported him and his family while he was in jail.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori released — in pictures

He still suffers flashbacks to his ordeal and says he was taken into interrogation centres at Evin prison, where he “made three suicide attempts” and lost 17 kilograms.

Afterwards, he was sent to the main prison, where he was kept in a “coffin-like” cell with about 14 others.

He started exercising regularly with other inmates, “running in circles” in a “very small area” at the prison gym or yard.

At first, he became breathless in 10 minutes or less but gradually his stamina improved and he was able to run for up to two hours.

Another inmate gave him a copy of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami.

“When I read that, I decided it was so inspiring, anytime I was released, I promised myself, whatever age I am, I am going to participate in the London Marathon,” he said.

“That was a good thing for me to do because it would actually protect my health.

“By running, you can fight going insane, it is magic.”

This British-Iranian dual citizen was detained in Iran for nearly five years — video

Another prison read was Man’s Search For Meaning by Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor.

Mr Ashoori said it made him realise that “even if you are going through intense suffering, if you try to find or create a purpose for that suffering, it is not going to be as painful as it was before”.

He urged the British government to do more to help negotiate the release of other people held in Iran, such as British-born environmentalist Morad Tahbaz.

In July, he was released on furlough with an electronic tag after being jailed for more than four years.

“I would urge the British government to please persevere, work hard to bring them back as well,” he added.

He said he was running to “let all the ones who are left behind know they are not forgotten”.

“I am thinking about them, doing this in solidarity with them,” he said

Detained British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori released by Iran — video

His and Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release came after the UK government agreed to pay back a £400 million debt to Iran dating back to the 1970s, but both governments argue the two issues should not be linked.

“From a cell in Evin prison to the crowd-lined streets of London in just a few short months is an amazing turnaround, and we hope that people will get behind Anoosheh and Aryan as they take part in this fantastic event,” said Jo Atkins-Potts, Amnesty International UK’s urgent actions campaigner.

“Since his release in March, Anoosheh’s always been clear that he wouldn’t rest until Morad Tahbaz, Mehran Raoof and others unjustly detained in Iran were released.

“He’s an inspiration and we’re delighted and honoured to be campaigning with him.”

Updated: August 26, 2022, 12:23 AM