NEWS
14/01/2019 11:36 GMT | Updated 14/01/2019 16:24 GMT

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe 'Pressured To Spy On UK' By Iranian Interrogators, Husband Claims

The British mum is beginning a three-day hunger strike.

A British-Iranian mother imprisoned in Iran has been pressured to become a spy for the country in exchange for clemency, it has been revealed.  

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was interrogated last month at Tehran’s Evin Prison by two members of the Revolutionary Guard who asked her to spy on Britain for Iran.

According to transcripts provided by the Free Nazanin campaign, the guards demanded information about UK Aid, DFID and Small Media. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe replied: “I know less about them than you do.” 

PA Wire/PA Images
Richard Ratcliffe speaks alongside Monique Villa, the CEO of Thomson Reuters, where Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe works 

During the conversation she added: “So are you saying you want me to be your agent?” to which came the reply: “Just think about it for a day or two. We can make sure you will not be hurt when released when you take up the offer. It will be better for you and your family if you take up our offer.”  

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was also asked to go on a sudden 10-day furlough this month, which she argued would be too traumatic for her daughter. Instead she requested a longer one, arguing “10 days is not enough for my daughter.”

Four-year-old Gabriella has been staying with family in Iran since her mother was detained.

The news comes as Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her cellmate, human rights activist Narges Mohammadi, began a three-day hunger strike in protest at being denied medical care. 

At a press conference on Monday, her husband Richard Ratcliffe appeared alongside lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who is representing both of the women in Iran.

Having spoken to his wife by telephone just hours earlier, Ratcliffe said she was “actually quite calm” as the hunger strike got underway. But he added that the week leading up to the strike had been “full of foreboding, and really tough” for the couple. 

Ratcliffe said the Revolutionary Guards had promised to return and that his wife has been “terrified ever since.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Nazanin has been suffering mental and physical health complaints during her detention

Ratcliffe met with Jeremy Hunt later in the day during which the foreign secretary vowed to do “all we can” to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe.  

Ratcliffe said: “We talked about the fact he’d summoned the Iranian ambassador here and that’s obviously quite a formal process where you express in strong terms your discontent.”

They discussed diplomatic protection, Ratcliffe said, but the minister was cautious to await the result of the meeting with the ambassador.

The move, according to Monique Villa, CEO of Thomson Reuters Foundation, which Zaghari-Ratcliffe works for, could be interpreted by the Iranian regime as “rather confrontational” and would kick-start a process under international law that states can enact to obtain repatriation for an illegal act against one of their nationals.

“We want Nazanin’s case to be kept to the forefront of his agenda and it felt today that it was,” Ratcliffe said.

“I feel that he’s very sincere in saying this is important. He clearly said, ‘Listen, I promise you we will do all we can.’”

The next step for Ratcliffe is to await an anticipated phone call with his wife on Wednesday to see if she has been granted medical access. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has suffered a catalogue of mental and physical health complaints since she was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on April 3 2016.

She has been denied medical care to check lumps in her breasts, neurological care over her neck pains and numbness in her arms and legs, and for seeing an outside psychiatrist.

She and Narges said they will consider extending the hunger strike if their demands to see a doctor are not met – something Ratcliffe says fills him with panic. 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, of Hampstead in north London, was sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, a charge she strongly denies.

She spent her 40th birthday on Boxing Day in prison, where she has been detained for more than 1,000 days. 

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The foreign secretary has discussed this issue with Richard Ratcliffe, and is keen to take a decision as soon as possible.

“We continue to take action on all our consular cases in Iran in line with what we believe will produce the best outcomes in their cases.”

Villa has said it is “extremely shocking” to see a “totally innocent” employee begin such a drastic protest.