Husband of woman detained in Iran ends three-week hunger strike

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The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has criticised the Prime Minister as he ended his hunger strike in central London after almost three weeks.

Richard Ratcliffe spent 21 days camped outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) without food.

He began his demonstration on October 24 after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran, saying his family was “caught in a dispute between two states”.

Richard Ratcliffe
Mr Ratcliffe has been on hunger strike for three weeks (Aaron Chown/PA)

On Saturday morning on King Charles Street, where Mr Ratcliffe has been staging his hunger strike, he told the PA news agency it was “the right time” to bring it to an end.

“We probably hoped we’d get a breakthrough doing this. We haven’t yet.

“I didn’t want to go out in an ambulance. I want to walk out with my head held high,” he said.

Mr Ratcliffe also criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his “telling” absence in talking to him during the protest.

Speaking about Mr Johnson, Mr Ratcliffe said: “He hasn’t dealt adequately with Nazanin’s case for years.

“He hasn’t honoured his promises. And we live with those consequences.

“He should be more mindful of that. He shouldn’t just walk away from promises made.”

Mr Ratcliffe said the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stopped to visit him earlier, and one other Government minister has come to see him, but he acknowledged he has seen more people from the Labour benches during the demo.

“We’ve certainly not had the Prime Minister come. And yes, I do think he has the capacity to do a disappearing act.

“I think his absence this past three weeks is telling. His absence on Nazanin’s case since he became Prime Minister is reasonably telling,” he said.

Mr Ratcliffe said he may have been “naïve”, but said: “I did expect he would step up and sort it and he would deliver on the promises he made as foreign secretary once he had the power to do so.”

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Ratcliffe’s local MP Tulip Siddiq tweeted: “It has been three weeks since Richard Ratcliffe last ate any food.

“In that time, not a single Government Minister has visited his camp outside the Foreign Office in solidarity.

Richard Ratcliffe
Mr Ratcliffe criticised the Prime Minister for not keeping his promises (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“Will the Prime Minister take 5 minutes out of his day to visit my constituent today?”

Mr Ratcliffe said he backed Ms Siddiq’s view and said it is “probably too late” for Mr Johnson to visit him now, and he added that his wife has also requested a phone call from the Prime Minister.

Ms Siddiq said she has been in touch with Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who she said is “worried sick” about her husband.

Ms Siddiq said: “It has been agonising to watch my constituent starve himself for so long and put himself deliberately in harm’s way.

“Richard has shown such dedication, bravery and dignity over the last three weeks, and indeed over the last five years.

“I know how proud his family are of him, and how much of an impact his personal sacrifice has had on the millions of people around the world who want to see their family reunited.”

The hunger strike ended with the unveiling of a patchwork made from all the patches supporters have been sending throughout Mr Ratcliffe’s time camped outside the FCDO.

Mr Ratcliffe said he was starting to get pains in his feet overnight, and after a chat with a doctor the decision was made to end the hunger strike.

He said he plans to go to hospital to get checked out on Saturday afternoon and then hopes to be able to eat something after that.

Mr Ratcliffe, who was joined by seven-year-old daughter Gabriella on Saturday, said of his time camped out: “It’s been a lovely experience emotionally. Tough physically. But yeah, I think it probably is the right time to end it.”

He offered a “warm thank-you” to everyone who has supported him.

“I wouldn’t have got through this alone,” he said. “Such an experience of kindness. I have been humbled by the care we’ve received.”

Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell join the demo
Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell both supported Mr Ratcliffe (Aaron Chown/PA)

A crowd of well-wishers clapped as Mr Ratcliffe made his way to a vehicle outside the FCDO just before 2.10pm.

There were cheers as the vehicle drove up King Charles Street towards Whitehall.

A meeting with Foreign Office minister James Cleverly, after FCDO officials had talks with Iranian deputy foreign minister Bagheri Kani on Thursday, left Mr Ratcliffe feeling “deflated” and “stuck in the same status quo”.

He said he did not feel things had “moved forwards” and accused the British Government of not giving a “clear enough message to Iran that hostage-taking is wrong”.

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.

According to her family, she 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.

While Mr Ratcliffe said the Government “clammed up” and would not talk about the debt during his discussion with officials, The Guardian newspaper reported that the UK told Iran it could not pay the debt owing to restrictions brought about by sanctions, quoting Tehran’s deputy foreign minister.

According to the paper, Bagheri Kani 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.”

It is the second time Mr Ratcliffe has gone on hunger strike, having camped in front of the Iranian embassy for 15 days two years ago – a move he said had resulted in getting his daughter home.

During Mr Ratcliffe’s latest demonstration he has been visited by supporters including Strictly Come Dancing co-host Claudia Winkleman, writer and presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as well as his local MP Ms Siddiq.

Ms Siddiq said she has secured a debate in Parliament on Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation and urged people to contact their MPs to ask them to speak in Tuesday’s discussion and “make the case for bringing Nazanin home”.

She said the debate has attracted cross-party support, adding: “Nazanin told me that she’ll be watching the debate and praying that she hears something new from the Government.”

Later on Saturday, Ms Siddiq said Mr Ratcliffe had eaten and “was doing ok”.

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