The husband of jailed British Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has said he thinks Boris Johnson’s advisers are preventing a meeting between the pair because the situation is “a bad news story”.
Richard Ratcliffe said that requests for a meeting had so far been left unanswered, adding: “It feels to me a bit like in the leadership campaign where almost like his advisors were keeping him at arm’s length. Let’s be honest, we’re a bad news story for him. We might be a good news story one day. So I think his advisers are keeping him away.”
Ratcliffe was speaking to reporters at a press conference in Westminster with his 5-year-old daughter Gabriella, with whom he was reunited just hours ago, after she returned to the UK to attend school.
He said that he and his daughter will once again be seeking a meeting with the prime minister, after Johnson previously ignored his requests for one.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 40-year-old charity worker from West Hampstead in north London, has been detained in Iran for three years over spying allegations, which she has consistently denied.
Her British-born daughter had been living in Tehran with her grandparents, but the family decided that she should return home to start school in the UK.
When he was foreign secretary, Johnson travelled to Iran and was heavily criticised for making a misleading statement, which her family said worsened her predicament.
Johnson said she was in Iran “simply teaching people journalism,” which both her family and her employer denied. His comments were cited in court as evidence against her.
Speaking at the press conference in Parliament, Richard Ratcliffe said: “As foreign secretary, he took responsibility for solving it. It’s my job to hold him […] to be responsible for his promises. He hasn’t yet delivered for us; he has a chance.”
He added: “He has my full confidence once it’s sorted, and until such time, no, I remain sceptical.”
He also said that he worries that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s mental health would deteriorate further now that she was no longer able to maintain close contact with her daughter, and that he fears she is at risk of suicide.
“It was one of the things she really didn’t want to happen — for her daughter to leave and she still be stuck in prison,” he said.
The press conference was organised by MP Tulip Siddiq, who highlighted the case of British Australian travel blogger Jolie King, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s former cellmate in Iran, who was also detained on spying charges. Siddiq said that King had been released after three months following negotiations between Iran and the Australian government.
She also drew attention to the government’s refusal to pay £400 million owed to Iran from a historic tank sale, the payment of which could make it more likely for Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be released.
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Siddiq said: “I have now dealt with three prime ministers, with three foreign secretaries, four Middle East ministers about this case…and every single one of those politicians have looked me in the eye and said this has nothing to do with the debt that we owe Iran, but we know that’s not true.
“We owe Iran £400 million… Nazanin and her family have been told by the revolutionary guards that the debt is linked to her imprisonment.”
The government has said that the debt could be paid subject to a court order but would not allow it to be linked to Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.
Ratcliffe said that he has some difficulty communicating with his daughter, due to the language barrier, but that she has been quick to learn and was able to let him know that she wanted to visit a toy shop.
They will visit family members before returning home, he said, adding that Gabriella will be enrolled in a nearby school.
Hannah Al-Othman is a political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Hannah Al-Othman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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