Richard Ratcliffe holds vigil for wife as he spends 20th day on hunger strike

·4-min read
Richard Ratcliffe is on hunger strike (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)
Richard Ratcliffe is on hunger strike (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Richard Ratcliffe said he is taking things “one day at a time” as he spent a 20th evening on hunger strike outside a Government building in central London over his wife’s detention in Iran.

He was joined at a vigil by his seven-year-old daughter Gabriella and supporters who gathered in a show of solidarity with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Mr Ratcliffe described it as a moment to remember his wife and show that “we cherish her and want her home soon”.

Richard Ratcliffe with a picture of his wife (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Richard Ratcliffe with a picture of his wife (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Those present sang songs including John Lennon’s Imagine and Adele’s Make You Feel My Love.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife was “probably less deflated” than he was after what he had described as a “depressing” meeting with Foreign Office minister James Cleverly on Thursday.

Speaking at his camp set up outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on Friday, Mr Ratcliffe said he had been told “nothing of any substance” during the discussion a day earlier.

He told the PA news agency his wife’s “main concern” currently is for him and the hunger strike, and that overall neither of them “have got particular confidence in the Government’s approach” to her continued detention.

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.”

Richard Ratcliffe with Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)
Richard Ratcliffe with Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Mr Ratcliffe told PA: “We’ve seen comments from the Iranian deputy foreign minister looking like the Iranians are still trying to manoeuvre a deal so that’s slightly more hopeful.

“And yeah, my job is not to get too down when things go wrong but to keep going. So yeah, I think you know we live to fight another day.”

Asked how long he might carry on his hunger strike, Mr Ratcliffe said: “Not much longer I think is the honest answer.

“We’re taking it one day at a time at this point. We’re obviously going on today, we’ll see how things are tomorrow, we’ll see the day after that.

“I’m not planning on going out of here in an ambulance. I’m planning on walking out with my head held high.”

He described himself as feeling “weaker, crankier, creakier” almost three weeks after beginning the strike when his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran.

During his 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 Tulip Siddiq.

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

Welcoming the news of the debate, Mr Ratcliffe described it as a “really good thing”.

He said: “There are a few points where I feel the Government’s statements to Parliament are disingenuous, if not active gaslighting.”

Mr Ratcliffe added that there must be “a lot less blaming Nazanin’s imprisonment on dual nationality and hiding behind things that are frankly irrelevant”.

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