he husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is enduring his 20th day on hunger strike, after a meeting with a Foreign Office minister left him feeling “deflated” about his wife’s continued detention in Iran
Mr Ratcliffe, who began his hunger strike outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in London on October 24, 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 Mr 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, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400 million debt to Iran.
Mr 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.
If these incidents were resolved, it would naturally have to influence the relationship between the two countries
Mr Bagheri Kani, according to the paper, said the two sides had agreed a payment of less than £500 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.”
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the FCDO said Mr Kani had been “pressed on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unfairly detained in Iran”.
They added that Mr Cleverly had then met Mr Ratcliffe “to reaffirm our commitment to reuniting his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with her family in the UK”.
But speaking shortly after the meeting, Mr 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.”
Mrs 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 Friday at 6pm where he 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 Mrs 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.”