Amidst an ongoing war of words between the UK and Iran, prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has announced a hunger strike after over 1,000 days imprisonment. On 28 December the UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt accused Iran of using Nazanin as a pawn for diplomatic leverage. Hunt went on to say:
“Nazanin isn’t the only person who is being detained, despite being totally innocent, as a pawn of diplomatic leverage.”
On 5 January Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi responded by accusing Hunt of “hasty” and “absurd” remarks against Iran.
Fractured UK-Iran relations
In November 2018 Hunt visited Iran to hold talks and make a personal request for the immediate release of dual-national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds. A statement released by the Foreign Office highlighted Nazanin as one of many dual-nationals that has been used as a bargaining chip in UK-Iranian relations.
UK-Iranian relations have received additional pressure recently as the UK has seen a spike in the number of migrants from Iran making the dangerous trip across the English Channel in an attempt to start new lives in the UK. A 3 January ITV report said that migrants from Iran say they are willing to “risk everything” to start new lives in the UK.
After being denied access to medical care, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has decided to go on hunger strike in protest. She announced the hunger strike from Tehran’s Evin prison in a joint letter with a fellow prisoner, the human rights activist Narges Mohammadi. The two women had previously been checked by a specialist doctor at the prison, who issued a written order to transfer them to an emergency medical centre, but because the authorities have prevented their transfer, they will carry out a hunger strike.
In the letter, published by the Tehran-based charity Defenders of Human Rights Centre on 2 January, the women wrote that,
“In protest to this illegal, inhuman and unlawful behaviour, and to express our concerns for our health and survival at this denial of specialist treatment, despite taking daily medicines, we will go on hunger strike from 14.01.2019 to 16.01.2019. We announce that in the event of the authority’s failure to address these concerns and them further endangering our health, we will take further action.”
After their letter was published, prison guards have cancelled their weekly phone calls with their families and reduced the ward’s food rations.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on 3 April 2016 as she attempted to return home to London after a visit to her family for Nowruz, the Persian new year holiday. Her daughter Gabriella’s passport was confiscated at the time and the reason for Nazanin’s arrest was withheld.
After 150 days of detention Nazanin was then sentenced to five years in prison on charges of spying after a short trial in which she was barred from proper access to legal representation. The sentence was upheld in 2017 and apart from 3 days furlough she was granted in August 2018, has remained in prison ever since.
Iran dual nationals still detained
Nazanin is one of 10 dual and foreign nationals still arbitrarily detained in Iran. The detainees include Siamak Namazi (US – Iran), Morad Tahbaz (UK-US-Iran), Ahmadreza Djalali (Iran-Sweden), Kamal Foroughi (UK-Iran), Kamran Ghaderi (Austria – Iran), Abdolrasoul Dorri Esfahani (Canada- Iran), Xiyue Wang (China/US), Nizar Zakka (US – Lebanon) and Saeed Malekpour (Canada- Iran).