Iranian interrogators tried to pressure jailed mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to spy on Britain in exchange for freedom, her husband said as she started a hunger strike.
The British-Iranian and another detainee started protesting on Monday morning over a lack of access to proper medical care, Richard Ratcliffe told a press conference in London.
He also revealed the 40-year-old charity worker was striking over an attempt by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps interrogators to pressure her to turn informant for Iran in late December.
Mr Ratcliffe, who was to meet with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday afternoon, said the tactic, deployed at around her 1,000th day in jail, meant they were in a “scary place”.
It comes as Mr Hunt summoned the Iranian ambassador to the UK to the Foreign Office to discuss the “deeply concerning deterioration” in her health.
Mr Hunt tweeted: “Her ongoing detention is TOTALLY unacceptable and her treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities is a fundamental breach of human rights.
“It is a truly terrible indictment of Iran’s approach that she feels she needs to resort to such an ordeal. Iran must take action now.#freeNazanin”.
PRESS RELEASE: Ongoing violations of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s rights demand strongest action from the UK government as she beings hunger strike todayhttps://t.co/bZWb4RIA3f— REDRESS (@REDRESSTrust) January 14, 2019
Mr Ratcliffe told the conference: “What really pushed her over the edge was they tried to make her become a spy for Iran against the UK.
“She was told it would be safer for her and safer for her family afterwards if she agreed to do this.
“She was told to think about it and that they would return. She has been terrified ever since.”
Today I summoned the Iranian Ambassador to demand Nazanin has immediate access to the healthcare she requires. Her ongoing detention is TOTALLY unacceptable and her treatment at the hands of Iranian authorities is a fundamental breach of human rights 1/2— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) January 14, 2019
Specifically, they wanted her to spy on the Department for International Development and London-based organisation Small Media, he said.
After the conference, Mr Ratcliffe told the Press Association: “I think that was pretty ominous, she was terrified of the conversation.
“She was hugely worried as to what was going to happen to her and her family and whether she was going to be taken back to solitary.
“We are in a scary place.”
He also said his wife, of Hampstead, north-west London, has been refused a mammogram after a doctor found new lumps in her breasts last month.
The doctor ordered that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has a family history of breast cancer and had previous lumps ruled as benign, should be examined but this was subsequently denied, he added.
“Clearly the worry of what those lumps mean has been preying on her mind,” he said.
On the agenda for the meeting with Mr Hunt is whether she can be granted diplomatic protection, a legal status he believes will give Britain greater access to her.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation charity, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on April 3 2016 and sentenced to five years in jail.
Iran has publicly accused her of spying, which she vehemently denies.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The Foreign Secretary will call for Nazanin to be immediately given the healthcare she requires and for her and other innocent British-Iranian dual nationals to be released.
“The Foreign Secretary has made this decision due to the deeply concerning deterioration in Nazanin’s health and the lack of progress in her case and other cases.
“We have repeatedly lobbied the Iranians to release Nazanin on humanitarian grounds and we will continue to raise all our cases at every level and every opportunity.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe is planning to go on an initial three-day hunger strike alongside fellow detainee Narges Mohammedi at Evin prison – but may fast for longer if her demands are not met.
Her other ailments include pains in her limbs and the need for an external psychiatrist.
Richard Ratcliffe on this ordeal with Iran's authorities: “One of the most ominous parts was the pressures on Nazanin’s family. That’s one of the reasons we made these things public – to stop them playing with us.”— Monique Villa (@Monique_Villa) January 14, 2019
Monique Villa, the chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, told the conference that denying medical access was a “kind of very slow torture”.
She added that her employee has suffered “severe depression” in custody and reiterated she is not guilty of espionage.
Human rights charity Redress has renewed calls for the Government to end Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s “appalling” treatment by taking “immediate steps to secure her release”, including granting her diplomatic protection.
Redress argues her release should be secured by Britain granting her diplomatic protection, a process under international law that states can enact to obtain repatriation for an illegal act against one of their nationals.
- Press Association