Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe on hunger strike after ‘Iranians ordered her to spy on UK’, husband says

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe decided to start a hunger strike today after Iranian interrogators tried to pressure her into becoming a spy for Iran, her husband has revealed.

Richard Ratcliffe said his wife had been asked by Revolutionary Guard officers who visited her in prison on December 29 to pass on information about Department for International Development (DFID) in return for clemency, he told reporters during a press conference coinciding with the beginning of her three-day strike.

"What really pushed her over the edge was they tried to make her become a spy for Iran against the UK," he told the Frontline Club in London.

“She was told it would be safer for her and safer for her family afterwards if she agreed to do this,” he said.

Mr Ratcliffe, from Hampstead, north London, added: "She was told to think about it and that they would return. She felt she’d been warned that spying was only way she’d get out. She had been terrified ever since."

The press conference came amid worsening relations between the UK and Iran over the British-Iranian mother’s fate. She was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for espionage in 2016 and despite being eligible for parole she remains in Evin prison in Tehran.

Mr Ratcliffe said he would be meeting with Jeremy Hunt, Foreign Secretary, later today.

Mr Hunt also summoned Iran’s ambassador to London to discuss the case.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe today began a three-day hunger strike, partly in protest at being denied access to medical treatment.

She said she will consider extending it if her demands to see a doctor are not met.

The 40-year-old had announced earlier this month that she was to go on the strike alongside imprisoned Iranian human rights activists Narges Mohammadi, prompting authorities to ration her food and stop weekly phone calls with her husband.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the charity arm of Thomson Reuters, has reportedly expressed fears they may also cut off her visits with four-year-old daughter Gabriella.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has suffered a catalogue of mental and physical health complaints since she was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport on April 3 2016.

The head of the Thomson Reuters Foundation said Monday she’s "sincerely worried" about Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe going on hunger strike to protest her treatment in the Islamic Republic.

Monique Villa said denying her employee medical access, including for new lumps found in her breasts in December, was a form of torture.

"This is a kind of very slow torture," she told the press conference at the Frontline Club.

She also said her employee has suffered "severe depression" in custody and reiterated she is not guilty of espionage.

"She’s not spy material," Ms Villa said.

"She’s innocent. She should be released immediately and she should have immediate medical access."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's detention
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe timeline

Iranian state TV last week released previously unseen footage of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s arrest, as part of a programme accusing the UK of trying to “infiltrate” the Islamic Republic through the BBC’s Persian language channel.

The narrator of the 48-minute programme refers to her multiple times as a “soldier in the army of the counter-revolution at the service of the British intelligence agencies.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "The Foreign Secretary has discussed this issue with Richard Ratcliffe, and is keen to take a decision as soon as possible.

"We continue to take action on all our consular cases in Iran in line with what we believe will produce the best outcomes in their cases."