The husband of a jailed British-Iranian woman has made an emotional appeal to Boris Johnson to focus on bringing his wife home, as a row over the foreign secretary’s efforts to secure her release deepens.
Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe remains behind bars in Iran after she was arrested at Tehran Airport last year, urged Johnson to “make good the promise he made to go and visit Nazanin in Iran” in a vlog for HuffPost UK.
Ratcliffe refused to be drawn into the row over forcing Johnson’s resignation, instead challenging the foreign secretary to help reunite his family for Christmas.
Johnson is under fire to apologise or resign after his inaccurate remarks that Hampstead resident Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in the country “training journalists” apparently provoked the Islamic Republic to interpret them as a “confession.”
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Ratcliffe said: “I’ve faced a number of calls these past couple of days, on what’s my view on the foreign secretary and whether we should be calling for him to resign.
“That’s not my place to say. It’s also not in Nazanin’s interests to have the foreign secretary battling for his job. For me, the most important thing is that he’s focused on bringing Nazanin home.
“And that all of his efforts and all of the efforts of the government, are focused on exactly that: Doing what they can do, to pressure Iran, to release her.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was leaving Iran in April last year with her then 22-month-old daughter Gabriella following a holiday spent visiting family, when she was detained.
The 37-year-old was sentenced to five years in prison in September 2016 following a conviction on unspecified “national security-related” offences following a trial before a revolutionary court in the capital Tehran.
Following months of pressure from Ratcliffe and a Change.org petition which now numbers more than one million signatures, Johnson last week told parliament that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case was a miscarriage of justice and promised to visit her as soon as possible.
Ratcliffe said: “Now I came away, having watched that actually quite elated at the time – he’d finally said this was a mockery of justice and that she was innocent and then he’d also said that he was promising to visit her. The thing he said that wasn’t correct and that actually I was a bit indignant about at the time, was that she was there training journalists, when in fact she’d been there on holiday.
“I didn’t think much more of it for a couple of days until what happened was on Saturday morning, Nazanin was dragged into court suddenly, the Revolutionary Court 15 facing Judge Salavati, who is the harshest of the Iranian judges and she was told she would be charged with the new charge of spreading propaganda against the regime. I spoke to her afterwards, she was allowed to call me and she was just full of tears, really distraught.”
On Tuesday, Johnson admitted that he “could have been clearer” and phoned his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an attempt to clarify that his comments did not, as the Iranian Judiciary High Council for Human Rights suggested “shed new light” on the case.
Labour MPs Tulip Sidiq and Stella Creasy were among those to criticise Johnson publicly for the error and there have been calls for him to step down.
But Ratcliffe says he wants Johnson to focus on the task at hand.
“Right now, the next thing I would like is for him make good the promise he made to go and visit Nazanin in Iran. That would send a big and important signal. So what I hope is that before Christmas we’re able to gather to bring her home.”
Ratcliffe’s daughter Gabriella remains in Iran where she is being cared for by her grandmother.
Separated from his wife and child, and unable to obtain a visa to visit the country, Ratcliffe acknowledges the little girl has been left feeling “at some level abandoned by her parents.”
“As she’s grown up she’s forgotten her English, she’s learned Farsi and she’s learned to become a little Iranian girl,” he revealed.
He added: “She now goes to nursery and indeed learns English at nursery so she can say to her father ‘I love you’, she can say ‘I miss you’ and she can also say ‘see you tomorrow’ which she thinks means ‘goodbye.’”
As for Zaghari-Ratcliffe, she was kept in solitary confinement for the first eight months of her time in prison – in a room slightly bigger than a double bed with just three blankets – one to use as a pillow, one as a mattress and one to sleep under.
Ratcliffe explains: “She would have a long time no company, apart from the company of her interrogators, who would bring her out of the room, sometimes blindfolded, sometimes not and interrogate her. And occasionally she was brought out to be exercised around the yard where she was allowed to walk.
“After 38 days in solitary confinement she was allowed a visit from her family for the first time. At that point she was unable to stand up and Gabriella had to be lifted onto her lap.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has suffered panic attacks, spasms in her back and neck and was diagnosed as needing to be admitted to hospital urgently – though she wasn’t.
She has threatened suicide and been on hunger strike and has now been diagnosed with advanced depression.
Ratcliffe urges: “People often ask me, what can I do, what else can I do? And the simple thing is, we have a petition, on Change.org, which keeps on collecting voices and signatures and on that petition is where I tell our story. If you haven’t signed the petition, please do. If you have friends who haven’t signed the petition, please do. I firmly believe that if enough people care, then the right people will care enough and that will bring Nazanin home. So thank you to all of you who have continued to care about our story.”