Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Hunger strike begins while husband reveals Iran ‘pressured her to become a spy’
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With Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe having begun her hunger strike in Iran’s Evin prison, her husband Richard revealed she was left “terrified” by pressure to become an agent for the Iranian authorities over Christmas.
Richard said Nazanin was interrogated on December 29 and asked to spy on the British government, charity UK aid, and media organisation Small Media.
Richard said this was the second factor - after fears for her health – which had motivated Nazanin’s decision to begin the strike.
He said: “They tried to pressure her to become a spy for the Iranian regime. She was told it would be safer for her and her family if she agreed to this.”
Richard suggested that, implicitly, Nazanin had been made to fear for her family’s safety once again during the interrogation.
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Nazanin, who is joined on strike by her cellmate Narges Mohammadi, is striking to demand access to urgent medical treatment – something she has been denied since she spent three days on furlough last August despite complaining of lumps in her breasts and continuing to suffer from depression.
Nobel peace prize laureate Dr Shirin Ebadi, who heads the Defenders for Human Rights Centre called on the world to take notice of Nazanin and Narges’ plight. Through a translator, Dr Ebadi said: “Nazanin is innocent, she’s a hostage, the whole world should know the true nature of the Iranian authorities.”
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Since Nazanin and Narges announced plans for the hunger strike, Iranian authorities have not engaged in any direct negotiations but Richard said the head of the prison’s clinic Abbas Khani had visited both women and promised “step by step” treatment but had stopped short of providing any written guarantees.
Last week Iranian television aired a documentary which showed Nazanin’s arrest almost three years ago – this move was condemned as “sinister and disturbing” by Amnesty UK.
Richard has this afternoon met Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who has still yet to make a decision on offering Nazanin diplomatic protection. This would make it easier for the British Government to ask to visit Nazanin in prison.
Earlier in the day, it had been hoped that this might be announced.
Richard told the press: “If I am candid, if Jeremy Hunt’s not going to grant diplomatic protection now, he’s never going to.”
He added that Nazanin sounded “calm” as he spoke to her for ten minutes this morning adding: “All through last week she was pretty
despairing, but now it’s started she seemed pretty calm.”
Nazanin’s boss at Thomson Reuters Monique Vila also spoke, calling Nazanin’s treatment “a slow torture”.
The strike has two objectives: that Nazanin and Narges are given medical treatment and that they are given written guarantees of this. Dr Ebadi highlighted that a political prisoner in Iran, Vayad Sayadi Nasiri, had died in prison in December after having been denied medical care. Richard said: “To be honest, listening to Dr Ebadi, I felt a little less sanguine.”
A statement released this afternoon by the foreign office confirmed that diplomatic protection was still being considered.
A spokesperson said: “The Foreign Secretary discussed this course of action with Richard Ratcliffe today, and will continue to actively consider the question of diplomatic protection alongside all other options in Nazanin’s case and the cases of other dual nationals detained in Iran.
“The Foreign Secretary has been clear that innocent people in prison must not be used as diplomatic leverage.”
Human rights organisation Redress have been vocal in calling for diplomatic protection to be bestowed.
Its chief executive Rupert Skilbeck said: “The UK government must treat Nazanin’s case as a legal dispute between states and seek a remedy on her behalf, taking immediate steps to secure her release.”