The husband of a British woman held captive in an Iranian jail for nearly three years has said her unjust detention might cost the couple the chance to have a second child.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who turns 40 today, was detained by the Iranian authorities in April 2016 and that September sentenced to five years in jail for ‘allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian regime’.
Amnesty International has called Zaghari-Ratcliffe ‘a prisoner of conscience who should never have been jailed in the first place’ and the Foreign Secretary has sought to intervene over her ‘unjust’ imprisonment.
Today her husband Richard Ratcliffe, 43, told the Huffington Post that his wife’s milestone birthday had ‘loomed large for her in recent months.’
He went on: ‘Partly for the landmark of not wanting to turn 40 alone in a prison cell, still denied watching her baby grow up, but increasingly wondering whether they will keep her so long that she is also denied having a second child.’
He said every day she remains held behind bars captivity is ‘an outrage’
Yesterday he revealed Tehran is refusing to allow his wife treatment for possible breast cancer.
Mr Ratcliffe said his wife had ‘new lumps again on her breasts’ but that requests for medical visits had been blocked by her captors.
She and her family have always resolutely maintained her innocence, insisting the BBC Persian journalism course she was running had no ulterior motive.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured with daughter Gabriela, was arrested for spying at Tehran airport in April 2016. Her family continue to protest her innocence
This morning her husband Richard told Sky News her captors were refusing to let a doctor check ‘new lumps in her breasts’
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was briefly reunited with her daughter Gabriella during her temporary release from prison in Iran earlier this year
This morning her husband told Sky News that his wife had been ‘really flat’ in the run-up to her 40th birthday, which falls on Boxing Day, having realised her dream of being released in advance of it would not come true.
He praised diplomatic efforts by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, but said sometimes the outlook was so bleak he anticipated a ‘big fight’ with ‘both governments.’
He said he had spoken his wife this Christmas morning, and that their three-year-old daughter had been in good spirits yesterday waiting for Father Christmas in their flat in Tehran.
He said: ‘She has an allowed phone call on a Tuesday, and it’s early in the morning, so we’ve had a few words with her.
‘She was obviously – it was nice to speak to her – flat to be be still stuck inside prison, but they’ve had midnight prayers, so they’ve done Midnight Mass, in the cells.’
A clearly emotional Mr Ratcliffe told Kay Burley: ‘Today she was better than before. She’s been really flat in the buildup to this week it’s loomed very large.
‘It’s her 40th birthday tomorrow and that’s been quite heavily as a landmark for the last three months or so that she wanted to be out for it.
This morning Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured right) tweeted his support for the family
‘So the last week was tough but actually today, it’s got to Christmas and she’s not there but she’s had prayers for everyone else – it was a bit better.’
He praised Jeremy Hunt, who tweeted his continued support for the case this morning, and Mayor of London Sadqi Khan.
He said: ‘I think it’s great [Mr Hunt] has been so strong, and really clear, and that’s a lovely tweet he’s tweeted there and in fact I saw him on Friday and he promised that he would carry on doing what he could.
‘T’s obviously important for us not to feel forgotten – so we had the Foreign Secretary tweeting today, yesterday the Mayor of London.’
He said it had been a year of ups and down for his family.
‘Nazanin has been in prison now for almost three years. We were very hopeful this time last year – last Christmas there was lots of media attention and I was on Sky lots and lots and we were hopeful she was going to be released.
‘And we had a real lull and a flat in early spring when it just didn’t happen.’
He said the couple had ‘picked themselves up’, enduring the heartache of a promised release, which was then cancelled, only to be rescheduled.
‘Then she suddenly she was released for three days,’ he said.
‘She missed her family when she was out, and I got to speak to her for the first time – I got to see her for the first time, and it was a euphoric moment back in the summer.’
But he said, he was ‘despondent’ after she was ‘dragged back to prison’
On Christmas morning the Foreign Secretary – who spoke to the family on Friday – tweeted using the hashtag #FreeNazanin
Yesterday Mayor of London Sadiq Khan leant his support to the family ahead of her milestone brithday tomorrow
He said that having completed more than half her sentence his wife was eligible for parole under Iranian law, and had been putting in applications for some time, but added that ‘for her it ‘eels like a political game in the first place’.
He said: ‘What more could she do? She’s done most of her time. Why can’t she be released.’
Their baby daughter Gabriela was excited yesterday, he said, hanging her stocking by the Christmas in their flat in Tehran.
‘As she gets older she understands more and she asks more questions, so certainly was asking a lot earlier on about when mummy was going to come out.
‘But yesterday she was focused on Christmas and when Father Christmas was coming.’
He said he could take little comfort from diplomatic signals about the case, including Tehran’s cruel refusal to allow his imprisoned wife medical visits.
‘I spend my time looking at the tea leaves and just trying to read all the signals and try to see what’s happening,’ he said.
‘In fairness those aren’t particularly positive.
‘One of the things we’ve been asking for, and the Foreign Secretary has been asking for is medical access, to see a doctor.
‘She’s got new lumps again on her breasts and certainly has been needing to see a neurologist for a long time, and those have still been blocked, so that’s not a great sign.’
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard Ratcliffe and their daughter Gabriella. Charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is in jail for allegedly plotting to topple the government in Tehran – charges she, her family, and the British Government strenuously deny
He added: ‘Sometime I feel quite hopeful and I think “maybe this’ll be over soon”, sometimes I think we’re going to have to have a big fight, with both governments ultimately.
‘But I think, Jeremy Hunt is clearly on our side and is battling hard, so hopefully we’ll have a good 2019.’
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 after visiting her family on holiday. She has always maintained the visit was to introduce her daughter Gabriella to her relatives.
She saw her four-year-old daughter for the first time since her imprisonment during a three-day release earlier this year, but since her return to prison the mother-of-one from Hampstead, north London, has suffered several panic attacks.
In September at the UN the Prime Minister told Iranian president Hassan Rouhani she had ‘serious concerns’ about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment.