The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British Iranian held in Iran since 2016, vowed to maintain a hunger strike he started nearly two weeks ago to denounce the “complacency” of the British government and its failure to secure the release of his wife.
“It’s not a stunt. It’s not a game, a hunger strike, it’s not a light thing,” Richard Ratcliffe told AFP on Friday during a vigil held to support his fast, which he started on Sunday, October 24 outside the Foreign Office in London.
“The status quo is unacceptable,” he said, on the pavement with their daughter Gabriella in front of a display of candles spelling out “Free Nazanin,” three weeks after Zaghari-Ratcliffe lost her appeal against a second jail term in Iran.
A project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the media organisation’s philanthropic wing, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2016 in Tehran during a visit to her family and convicted of plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime — accusations she strenuously denied — and sentenced to five years in prison.
After serving her time, she was sentenced again at the end of April to another year’s imprisonment for participating in a rally outside the Iranian embassy in London in 2009.
In mid-October, she lost her appeal, with her family fearing she will soon return to prison, which she had been allowed to leave with an electronic bracelet in March 2020 amid Covid-19 concerns.
Ratcliffe has said he believed his wife “is caught in a dispute between two states” over an old debt of 400 million pounds ($540 million) that London refuses to settle since the shah of Iran was ousted in 1979.
He began his new hunger strike, his second since 2018, in the face of “complacency running through the government strategy”.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think their strategy was failing,” he said.
With winter approaching, Ratcliffe said he had received lots of hats and scarves and other warm clothing from wellwishers.
“Your metabolism slows down when you’re on a hunger strike, so I feel the cold more, so I’m wearing a huge number of layers now,” he said.
Despite the falling temperatures, Ratcliffe said he intended to continue his protest, in particular, because Iran is attending the COP26 climate talks in Scotland.
“I intend on going on into next week, not least because the Iranians are sending a delegation to Glasgow,” he said.
“They might be coming down to London as well, and I just think they shouldn’t be able to wine and dine and carry on like normal whilst holding British citizens hostage.”