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Richard Ratcliffe on day 20 of hunger strike over wife’s detention in Iran

A vigil is planned for this evening outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London where Ratcliffe is camping.

Richard Ratcliffe after his meeting with Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly
Richard Ratcliffe after his meeting with Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE HUSBAND OF Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is enduring his 20th day on hunger strike, after a meeting with a British Foreign Office minister left him feeling “deflated” about his wife’s continued detention in Iran.

Richard Ratcliffe described being “stuck in the same status quo” after the discussion with James Cleverly on Thursday, and accused the British Government of not doing enough to resolve the situation.

Ratcliffe, who began his hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London on 24 October, after his wife lost her latest appeal, said while those at the meeting had been “perfectly nice, sincere, caring”, he came away from it with “no hope”.

His update from Cleverly, lasting a little over 30 minutes, took place after talks between UK Government officials and Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani.

According to her family, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million (around €468 million) debt to Iran.

Ratcliffe said the Government “clammed up” and would not talk about the debt during his discussion with them.

But The Guardian reports the UK told Iran it could not pay the debt owing to restrictions brought about by sanctions, quoting Tehran’s deputy foreign minister.

Bagheri Kani, according to the paper, said the two sides had agreed a payment of less than £500 million (circa €585 million) taking interest into account , and added: “Now what the UK government are bringing up is the limitations on banking interactions, saying it is a difficulty, and finally they cannot do it.”

He said the issue of repaying the debt was separate from the detention of British-Iranian nationals, but said: “If these incidents were resolved, it would naturally have to influence the relationship between the two countries.”

‘Deflated’ 

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the FCDO said Kani had been “pressed on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unfairly detained in Iran”.

They added that Cleverly had then met Ratcliffe “to reaffirm our commitment to reuniting his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with her family in the UK”.

But speaking shortly after the meeting, Ratcliffe told reporters he felt “a little bit more deflated”, adding: “We’re still stuck in the same status quo. We’re still stuck in the same problems that led us to end up on hunger strike.

“I don’t feel they’ve given a clear enough message to Iran that hostage-taking is wrong. I don’t think there are any consequences to Iran at present for its continuing taking hostages of British citizens and using them.”

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Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, has been in custody in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the government.

She was taking the couple’s daughter, Gabriella, to see her family when she was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail, spending four years in Evin Prison and one under house arrest.

A singalong vigil is planned for 6pm today where Ratcliffe has been camped in King Charles Street.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, described the meeting’s outcome as “bitterly disappointing ” and called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “personally intervene” in the case of Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other detainees.

He said: “The UK Government must take decisive action to end the cruel games that Nazanin and her family have been forced to endure over the past five and a half years.

“We need a clearly articulated strategy for bringing Nazanin and all arbitrarily detained British nationals home from Iran once and for all.”

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