Richard Ratcliffe: Our daughter faces another Christmas without her mum

·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella hold a candlelit vigil outside the Foreign Office for their wife and mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who has been detained in Iran since 2016, jailed on charges of plotting to topple the Iranian government. (Photo by Martin Pope / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella hold a candlelit vigil outside the foreign office for their wife and mother, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained in Iran since 2016. (PA Images)

Sitting outside the foreign office on a fold-up chair and wrapped in thermals, Richard Ratcliffe is hoping - again - that his wife will be home for Christmas.

Visibly thinner than when he began, today marks his 20th day of hunger strike in protest of his wife's detention in Iran.

"Life goes on, whether you want it or not," he tells Yahoo News UK, with an air of both sadness and resilience.

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His wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was taken by Iranian government while visiting family in 2016 with her then 22-month-old daughter, Gabriella.

A British-Iranian national, she has been imprisoned for over five years on false charges of attempting to overthrow the Iranian regime.

"I would love it if Nazanin was home for this Christmas - she may not be," he said, surrounded by onlookers queuing to show their support.

Richard Ratcliffe
Richard is entering his 20th day of hunger strike. (Yahoo News UK)

"If she's not, I will still want Gabriella to have a Christmas; Christmas to go and see her cousins, to go play, go to carols - all the things that are part of the memories.”

Richard said when Nazanin was initially taken, he wanted to press pause on celebrations like Christmas and wait until his wife came home, saying it was almost as if life was "suspended" - but, as time went by, he realised it wasn't going to be possible.

"A lot of the time we don't even think about Christmas," he said, slightly slurring his words after over two weeks of hunger strike.

"But generally, I think my job is to try and make the best Christmas we can.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's daughter Gabriella at a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has completed a near five-year sentence in the Islamic Republic over allegations of plotting to overthrow its government - charges which she vehemently denies. Picture date: Monday March 8, 2021.
Nazanin and Richard's daughter, Gabriella, at a protest outside the Iranian embassy in London next to a picture of her mother. (PA Images)

Psychiatrists have expressed concern for Nazanin, with experts saying she needs urgent psychiatric help and may be suffering with major depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) after suffering torture.

During Yahoo News UK's conversation with Richard, several politicians - including shadow women and equalities secretary, Anneliese Dodds - visited his protest in support.

"I think probably, in the very early parts of when Nazanin was taken, in the the first year, it was kind of like life was suspended until we got her home," he said.

"Now my job is to keep home alive until she comes back.”

The Catch-up sign up
The Catch-up sign up

Their daughter, Gabriella, initially stayed in Iran living with her grandmother. However, the family eventually decided she should return to England in October 2019 to begin school.

Now 7 years old, she has also campaigned tirelessly for her mother's release - and has begun to play a role in keeping the festive season alive as she faces another Christmas without her mother.

“Last year, Gabriella bought a rainbow-coloured Christmas tree, and she decided was the most beautiful Argos were selling,” said Richard, smiling proudly.

"And I think that's right, they're actually going to celebrate and enjoy it."

Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe stands next to her father Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and his mother Barbara, as they address the media in Downing Street, London, following a meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 23, 2020. Mr Ratcliffe is expected to ask Mr Johnson � who he has previously criticised over his handling of the charity worker's case � to take a personal interest in the case and treat it as
Gabriella stands next to her father Richard and his mother Barbara as they address the media outside Downing Street. (PA Images)

From his protest on the pavements of Whitehall, Richard has called on Boris Johnson to do more to bring his wife home.

"My message to Boris Johnson, is really that he just needs to take responsibility,” he said, surrounded by messages of support and placard's criticising the government's lack of action and calling for them to do more.

“The first job of the prime minister is to protect British citizens, all of them."

In 2017 while foreign secretary, Johnson falsely claimed that Nazanin was training journalists in Iran - which the Iranian government then cited as evidence to keep her detained.

While he initially refused to apologise for his comments, Ratcliffe claims Johnson promised to would pay a historic £400m debt to the country - but it is yet to materialise.

Richard Ratcliffe, with his five-year-old daughter Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe, speaks during a press conference in the Jubilee Room at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, following Gabriella's return to the UK so she can attend school.
Richard Ratcliffe said his daughter Gabriella helps keep Christmas at home without her mother alive. (PA Images)

Nazanin is one of several British nationals being detained in the country by the Iranian regime.

Richard described a “moral vacuum” at the heart of government over the issue, criticising what he perceived as the prime ministers nonchalance about his role in Nazanin’s continued detention and has called for deeds not words.

“His ability to you know, pretend like that hadn't happened, I found astounding,” he said.

“And yes, I've met the prime minister, as he’s well meaning, but talk is cheap.

“You can’t govern through slogans, you govern through decisions and actions - and that has been very poor.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic in the House of Commons, London. Picture date: Wednesday May 12, 2021.
In 2017, Boris Johnson falsely claimed Nazanin was training journalists in Iran - which the Iranian regime then used as evidence of her plotting to overthrow their government. (PA Images)

Those advocating for Nazanin’s release have also sought to point out that five different ministers visited Iran over her case under former prime minister, Theresa May - but none have under Johnson.

While Richard said the hunger strike was taking his toll, he said he was determined to say as long as he can.

"I think part of being on hunger strike is aiming to shame them he said," he said with determination. 

"It's aiming to be shaming them in the middle of a landmark event this year, in front of their doorstep, and to say: 'listen, we're not going away, you can't brush this under the carpet, your job is to keep people safe, and ultimately he's the prime minister.'"

Watch: Richard Ratcliffe calls on Boris Johnson to help free his wife being held hostage in Iran

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