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Woman's detention in Iran is 'spectacularly cruel and crazy', says UK husband

Published 09/05/2016

David Cameron has been urged to help free the mother-of-one
David Cameron has been urged to help free the mother-of-one

The British husband of a woman who has spent more than a month in an Iranian jail after being arrested and separated from their infant daughter says her detention is "cruel and crazy".

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker who has dual British-Iranian nationality, was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard 36 days ago at the Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran as she returned to the UK from visiting her family.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said she has spoken by phone with family in Iran but believes she has been interrogated in solitary confinement and coerced into signing a confession, but to what he does not know.

Her family have been told the investigation relates to issues of national security, though there have been no charges.

Their daughter Gabriella, who is 22 months old and has British citizenship, is being cared for by her grandparents in Iran but has had her passport confiscated, leaving her stranded in the country.

Mr Ratcliffe, 41, an accountant from West Hampstead, London, has been able to speak with his daughter via Skype but said she is "struggling".

He is now begging the Government to intervene in his wife's plight.

A petition on the website that has attracted around 5,000 supporters has been sent to Prime Minister David Cameron and Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr Ratcliffe told the Press Association: "I think the whole thing is nonsense. It's spectacularly cruel and crazy. She has done nothing. She genuinely is a charity worker who all her career has done charity work and went to visit her family.

"There isn't some activism in Iran or anything, the organisation she works for doesn't work in Iran. She's not particularly political, it's just cruel and arbitrary and beyond my competence to what has provoked it."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 37, a project manager for the Thomson Reuters Foundation who came to the UK in 2007, was detained in Iran's main airport as she tried to check in on April 3 to fly home to England with the couple's daughter.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife was told there was a problem with her passport, and Gabriella was handed to her parents while authorities dealt with her.

But when her family returned to the airport the following day there was no news.

Two days later she was allowed to call them to say she was safe and was helping authorities with an investigation, Mr Ratcliffe said, but it was a "stilted conversation" as if someone was listening in, with his wife telling her parents what she had had for lunch.

In another call she told them she was going to be released, but instead was taken to Kerman Province, 600 miles (1,000km) south of Tehran.

Iranian authorities contacted her parents to tell them her whereabouts, and she later called them to confirm it, but contact has since been infrequent.

Mr Ratcliffe said: "She has never said on the phone that she's in solitary confinement, her father has never said she's in solitary confinement, the authorities have not confirmed that she's in solitary confinement.

"(But) talking to other people, that is what everyone goes through. But until she's out, she's clearly not speaking to anyone else."

He said it appeared that if she co-operates during daily interrogation she is allowed to call her family in Iran "as a reward for good behaviour", but said she was only out of solitary confinement for one day last week.

She is not allowed to call her husband, which he believes is because her captors would not understand their English.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife had told her father she had signed something two weeks ago on the understanding that she would be released, but said it had simply been "banked" and that he had not idea what it was.

During her captivity she has had no access to a lawyer, family visits or consular help, Mr Ratcliffe said, while the Red Cross has been unable to reach her.

He said: "It just feels so cruel. At the beginning I was just shocked and couldn't believe it. It's crazy. She's been on family holidays (there) four times in the past two years with her baby, no problems, and this time treated like she is some enemy of the state.

"The enormity of it didn't hit home instantly, I didn't quite get it. It was only really when that most recent phone call came saying this is a serious issue of national security, and then when I realised that she was just so isolated and she had confirmed that she had signed a statement confessing to something."

Mr Ratcliffe said his priority is to get her out of solitary confinement and in a normal facility near her family so they can visit her, or released on bail.

He said: "The purpose of the petition is to get her situation high up the political profile... and to make sure that my wife is not forgotten.

"It is just so cruel for her to be kept away from her baby, from her daughter."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We have been providing support to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family since we were first informed of her arrest and will continue to do so."

The Iranian embassy in London was unavailable for comment.

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