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Free Nazanin or I fear she will take her life, pleads husband

The Guardian logo The Guardian 25/08/2019 Donna Ferguson
a person holding a baby: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella. © EPA Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella.

The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian woman detained in Iran, fears she may try to take her own life if she is not given her freedom soon.

Richard Ratcliffe told the Observer he was afraid the harsh new jail conditions imposed last week could lead to a deterioration in her mental health and might trigger a suicide attempt.

She is no longer permitted to call him in the UK and has been told she can only see their five-year-old daughter Gabriella once a month. Previously she had been allowed to see her twice a week.

“The next escalation I would worry about is a more severe hunger strike where she ends up in hospital or a suicide attempt. I know she’s despairing and that’s what she’s been saying would happen next,” he said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Richard Ratcliffe, poses for a picture as he continues his hunger strike outside the  Iranian Embassy on June 28, 2019 in London, England. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen continues her detention in Iran where she has been for three years, on charges of plotting against the Iranian government.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) © getty LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28: The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Richard Ratcliffe, poses for a picture as he continues his hunger strike outside the Iranian Embassy on June 28, 2019 in London, England. Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British citizen continues her detention in Iran where she has been for three years, on charges of plotting against the Iranian government. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Nazanin has been having suicidal thoughts since her second hunger strike failed to secure her release in February, he added. “She has regularly been talking about how she can’t go on. In my phone calls, I would try to give her reassurance that there are reasons to be hopeful. Obviously that’s been taken away. For me, the worry is if she’s stopped from being given reasons to hope, in a context where she’s got reasons not to hope, it will affect her morale and what she then decides to do.”

Ratcliffe said he thought Nazanin would find the separation from her daughter particularly hard. In the past, he has been able to persuade her to promise not to attempt suicide. But his wife’s mental health suffered when she was handcuffed to a bed and held in solitary confinement in a mental health ward for six days, and then returned to prison. “After that, she told me she wasn’t sure she’d be able to keep her promise to me.”

He wants the British and Iranian governments to understand the urgency of the situation. “You’ve got weeks to solve this now. I don’t care how, but you’ve got weeks to solve this, before the situation deteriorates.”

In the meantime, Ratcliffe said he was trying not to dwell on his fears about Nazanin’s future actions. “I wouldn’t be able to cope if I did.”

Gallery: Iran - from democracy to autocracy (USA Today)

Last week, Ratcliffe revealed he had not been offered a high-level meeting with either the prime minister Boris Johnson or the foreign secretary Dominic Raab since they took office, despite Johnson’s claim that he felt a “deep sense of anguish” over her plight and having promised to prioritise her release during his leadership campaign. Raab has subsequently invited Ratcliffe to meet him in early September when Ratcliffe plans to ask him how he hopes to bring Zaghari-Ratcliffe home.

“I want to make sure that there’s isn’t a hollowing out of commitments taken by his predecessor and I want to know how he personally sees things, how he is going to solve it and how he sees the UK-Iran relationship,” said Ratcliffe.

Given that Britain has given his wife diplomatic protection, Ratcliffe also thinks the government should be reading Iran the riot act. “Revoking her phone calls and failing to allow outside medical treatment and visits with her daughter is extraordinary and must be robustly challenged.”

Finally, Ratcliffe said he merely wanted Raab to explain what is going on. The Foreign Office is very cagey about its strategy, he said, and has a tendency to wait for things to calm down before deciding what it is going to do. “There isn’t time to wait. There just isn’t time to wait, for us.”

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