Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband supports hunger striker calling for IRGC proscription

Vahid Beheshti is urging Rishi Sunak to designate Iranian group as a terror organisation

Richard Ratcliffe, left, sits alongside British-Iranian activist Vahid Beheshti outside the Foreign Office in London. Laura O'Callaghan / The National
Powered by automated translation

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband has offered his support to a British-Iranian hunger striker who is calling on the UK government to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror organisation.

Richard Ratcliffe said the mere sight of Vahid Beheshti camping out on the pavement opposite the Foreign Office brought back vivid memories of his own experience in November 2021, when he refused food for 21 days in protest against what he saw as the government’s lack of action to secure the release of his wife, jailed in Iran.

Mr Ratcliffe has visited Mr Beheshti several times during his protest. Speaking to The National, Mr Ratcliffe said he had shared his own wisdom with Mr Beheshti, who is now on the 30th day of his hunger strike.

“I was saying to Vahid, this is a marathon,” he said. “It’s about sending a message [to the government] that ‘I am on your doorstep, what you’re doing is not good enough.’

“He is trying to get them to reconsider what they are doing.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government has for months faced pressure from MPs and British Iranians to place the IRGC in the same category as Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.

While ministers have announced several rounds of sanctions against Iran, they have stopped short of recognising the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.

Mr Beheshti has argued that sanctions are not enough to deter the IRGC from its malign activities both at home and abroad.

The activist, 46, said he has lost more than 10 kilograms but insisted he remains committed to his campaign.

“Physically, I am getting weaker but internally, as the days go by, I am getting stronger and stronger,” he told The National. “I am very determined.”

‘Is this the hill I want to die on?’

Mr Ratcliffe spent six years campaigning for the release of his wife from Iran after she was detained at Tehran airport in 2016 following a visit to see family.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released in March 2021 after the UK agreed to pay a £400 million debt to Tehran.

Though he expressed his support to Mr Beheshti, Mr Ratcliffe said he had told him that he may not get his preferred outcome from his hunger strike — a difficult lesson he learnt through his own experiences.

In 2021, he had four demands for then-prime minister Boris Johnson, which included settling the historic debt. On day 21, having achieved none of his demands, Mr Ratcliffe ended his strike.

Mr Ratcliffe said he had stressed to Mr Beheshti the UK government’s desire not to be seen to be bowing to hunger strikers’ demands.

“Otherwise you’d have people out here hunger striking for five different campaigns,” he added.

Pointing to Mr Beheshti’s tent surrounded by bouquets of flowers from well-wishers, Mr Ratcliffe said: “That’s exactly where I was. On this very spot, I was on hunger strike for 21 days, which sounds like an eternity.

“It was cold, wet and miserable.

“I was surrounded by these very imposing government buildings.

“I felt really small and vulnerable. I remember being here just trying to get the government’s attention.

“I got weaker and asked myself, ‘Is this the hill I want to die on? Do I want to go out in an ambulance or not go out at all?’

“My aim was to get the government to move on Naz’s case. I am not sure at the time whether I knew it would achieve anything.”

Mr Ratcliffe said he was encouraged to see British Iranians rallying around Mr Beheshti at his encampment. He added that it was heartwarming to see that “there’s a wider community galvanising around him”.

Over the past four weeks, members of the public have dropped by with flowers, candles, artwork and — perhaps most importantly — words of encouragement and support.

Touching on the growing calls for Mr Sunak’s government to designate the IRGC as a terror entity, Mr Ratcliffe said “it looked like they were about to proscribe and then they didn’t”.

“I fully support that there should be accountability for the Revolutionary Guard’s crimes including sanctions,” he added.

On Friday, day 30 of his hunger strike, Mr Beheshti wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister, pleading with him to meet him to discuss his demand.

He said the “failure” of past British governments to “stand up to the Iranian regime's oppression in Iran and abroad has reached a critical level”.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 6:00 PM