Hunger strike by husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe grinds on

Special Hunger strike by husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe grinds on
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds with Richard Ratcliffe, as he continues with his hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, London, Nov. 2, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 15 November 2021

Hunger strike by husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe grinds on

Hunger strike by husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe grinds on
  • Now on Day 13, Richard Ratcliffe said ‘It’s more visceral this time around’ compared to his previous 15-day hunger strike in 2019
  • He said he will strike until the British government acknowledges the need for fast action to free his wife from prison in Iran

LONDON: A hunger strike by Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of a British-Iranian woman detained in Iran, entered its 13th day and he insisted that his protest is a “warning shot” for London.

Ratcliffe has slept in a pop-up tent just outside the Foreign Office in London for nearly the past two weeks in an effort to spur the British government to do more to bring home his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained in Iran since 2016.

Ratcliffe told the Guardian on Friday he is trying to make sure the government understands that “this is not a stunt,” but rather “a warning shot.”

He said he would continue to strike until the government acknowledges that ministers need to act fast to save his wife from her Iranian confinement.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 43-year-old mother of one, has been imprisoned for more than five years — most of them spent in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison — accused by Tehran of plotting to overthrow the regime. She denied the charges.

Ratcliffe explained to the Guardian that it was difficult to know whether he should end the hunger strike ​​in the near-freezing temperatures. He said he felt cold, slept a lot, and has struggled to deal with the lack of sustenance.

The couple’s daughter Gabriella, 7, is being cared for at the family home by Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s brother.

The last time Ratcliffe went on hunger strike, outside the Iranian embassy in 2019, it lasted 15 days, which is the estimated threshold for making a subsequent full recovery. 

That was in June, and he was joined by 100 sympathizers, which created what he described as “almost a carnival feel.” 

But this strike is in November as he has been flanked each night by only two family members or friends — and yet he is determined to go on for longer.

“It’s more visceral this time around. It’s smaller, darker, more pointed. I’m saying things I wouldn’t have said two years ago,” Ratcliffe told the Guardian.

He said he is especially frustrated that Iran’s vice president is being “wined and dined” by ministers at the Cop26 Summit in Glasgow. “I promised the Foreign Office … I would find a way to rain on that parade. It’s the complicity, pretending the world can just go on as normal.”

Ratcliffe also said that he observed a “real drift” in UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attitude toward his wife’s plight during his tenure.

“The policy is one of managed waiting, waiting for Iran to do the right thing, for a diplomatic solution,” he said. “There is no strategy to get Naz home, which I said very bluntly to (foreign secretary) Liz Truss last week. That’s why I’m camping on the street because after five and a half years that’s really clear.”

Ratcliffe explained that the solution to his wife’s confinement is clear: the government must pay an outstanding debt between London and pre-Revolutionary Iran. The debt is worth an estimated £400m ($539m), which was part of an arms deal that Britain received payment for but did not deliver on, due to the revolution's change of government.

The families of other British citizens detained in Iran have also aligned with Ratcliffe. The family of Anoosheh Ashoori — now serving a 10-year sentence after allegedly spying for Israel — joined the protest on some nights.

“There’s strength in numbers,” Ashoori’s daughter, Elika Ashoori, said. “For those of us who can speak up, it's very important we put pressure on the government. Otherwise, Iran will continue to hold hostages and more families will be affected.”

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Iran’s decision to proceed with these baseless charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is an appalling continuation of the cruel ordeal she is going through. Instead of threatening to return Nazanin to prison, Iran must release her permanently so she can return home. We are doing all we can to help Nazanin get home to her young daughter and family and we will continue to press Iran on this point.”