Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is “feeling a strong sense of trepidation” ahead of a hunger strike she intends to start tomorrow, but will pursue the high-stakes strategy despite fears that the Iranian authorities will cut off her daughter’s visits as a result, her husband has said. The British-Iranian dual national plans to strike for three days in…
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is “feeling a strong sense of trepidation” ahead of a hunger strike she intends to start tomorrow, but will pursue the high-stakes strategy despite fears that the Iranian authorities will cut off her daughter’s visits as a result, her husband has said.
The British-Iranian dual national plans to strike for three days in protest against being denied medical care in Tehran’s Evin prison, but will consider extending the protest if her demands to be seen by a doctor are not met, Richard Ratcliffe said.
“The question is whether she’ll just strike for the three days she announced or whether she’ll decide to go on,” said Ratcliffe, whose phone calls with his wife were cut back after she announced her plan to go on hunger strike. “She’s giving slightly mixed messages, depending on whether she’s feeling daunted or angry … It’s her decision to strike. Now she’s made it, I think we will respond to how things develop and try not to feel too much panic.”
Ratcliffe said his wife was scared that her decision would result in further reprisals from the Iranian authorities after her food rations were cut last week and a programme was aired on state TV in Iran repeating allegations she is a British spy. In particular, the couple fear her twice-weekly visits with their daughter, Gabriella, will be stopped as punishment for the hunger strike.
“Outside contact has already been restricted,” said Ratcliffe. “When she was in solitary confinement she went on hunger strike for six days and they sent her family in to plead with her. It’s not impossible that family visits are disrupted for a bit. And then when she’s weak and vulnerable, family is sent back in to plead she should end it.”
He added that the Foreign Office had sent him advice stressing the negative physical effects of a hunger strike, which he found too painful to read closely. “We know a hunger strike has significant physical consequences the longer it goes on for and Nazanin is feeling a strong sense, of trepidation. But there aren’t many ways she can say, ‘Enough is enough. Take me seriously’,” he said.
Ratcliffe said his wife, who is 40 and has been detained in Evin since her arrest in April 2016, had made the decision to strike because she wanted to send a message that she was “at the end” and “cannot take any more”.
She has been denied medical attention for lumps in her breasts and refused neurological care for neck pains and numbness in her arms and legs, despite being referred by the prison doctor for specialist treatment for both. She has also been banned from seeing an outside psychiatrist.
Ratcliffe has been struggling to keep his wife’s spirits up and simultaneously cope with his own anxieties. “This week I haven’t gone to sleep before about 2am and I’ve been waking up early. I carry on because you just do, don’t you? But I’ve been half dreading this moment and calming myself that the moment isn’t actually here yet. It certainly feels like the stakes have risen significantly. I think we’re on the precipice,” he said.
He sees the decision to deny his wife treatment as an assertion of power by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. “They obviously don’t think she’s going to die this week and are just asserting that they are in charge. So everyone else can agree she needs medical treatment, and the Foreign Office can demand it, but they’re the ones who give the say-so, and they haven’t. That’s my reading of it.”
Neither he nor Zaghari-Ratcliffe have been able to bring themselves to watch the lengthy TV documentary that was broadcast on Iranian state TV, showing secretly-filmed footage of her arrest at Tehran airport. “The other prisoners watched it. Nazanin couldn’t watch it. She left the room. But she heard it and she heard again the voices of her interrogators … I still haven’t be able to watch it either.”
Both of them found the broadcast shocking. “It’s the idea that, actually, all of this has been secretly filmed on a secret camera, perhaps hidden in a bag. It’s very violating.” He thinks broadcasting the footage was a way of sending a powerful message to the Iranian diaspora: “We can take who we want. No one can stop us. This could happen to you.”
Ratcliffe met the British ambassador last week to find out what diplomatic discussions have been taking place behind the scenes and what the ultimate response of the British government will be if medical access continues to be denied to his wife. “The foreign secretary [Jeremy Hunt] made a clear ultimatum and got promises from the Iranian authorities they were going to give her the health treatment she needs. He said, do it or there will be consequences. Now Nazanin is essentially saying the same thing, there will be consequences if I don’t get this treatment I need. The Iranian authorities are playing with fire.”