Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe assessed by doctors over fitness to stay in Iranian jail
In a potential breakthrough in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the Iranian authorities have conducted a health assessment to determine whether the British-Iranian woman, who is serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran, is fit to remain in prison.
The assessment, during which Zaghari-Ratcliffe was asked about her mental and physical health, was conducted by the Iranian health commissioner on the orders of the prosecutor’s office on Sunday. Iranian media said she could be conditionally released if the symptoms meant she “qualifies”.
The commissioner is due to present his judgment this week.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in 2015 with her daughter, who has been forced to remain with her grandmother in Tehran. She was sentenced to five years in jail on charges of spying and trying to topple the Iranian establishment. It is possible she could be released from jail, but not allowed to leave Tehran, but campaigners including her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, are pressing for her return to the UK.
Her supporters say she told the commissioner in the prescence of a doctor that she had suffered uncontrollable panic attacks, insomnia, bouts of severe depression and suicidal thoughts, particularly following recent reports on her case on Iranian TV seeking to prove that she is a spy. She is taking anti-depressants and other medication. She has also been trying to see a psychiatrist in the prison for some days.
She is due in court on 10 December to face additional charges, around the time the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, is due to visit Tehran, the first British foreign secretary to do so for over a decade. The precise date of his visit has not been published.
A prison doctor is also said to have told the commissioner that Zaghari-Ratcliffe suffered an attack of post-traumatic stress disorder following a broadcast on Thursday that made unsubstantiated allegations about her supposed involvement in subversive activities in Iran.
A fortnight ago her family became concerned that she had cancer, but a check-up gave her the all-clear.
Richard Ratcliffe was upbeat. “I think it’s positive,” he told the Guardian on Tuesday.
“In my understanding of the process, for the last couple of months her lawyers have been pushing and she was asking for an assessment following the psychiatrist report basically to say listen that she’s really struggling and try to make the case that she shouldn’t be in prison. That was always part of the application for temporary release and part of the application for early release,” he said.
He said his wife told him by phone on Tuesday that her health had been reviewed by the health commissioner, the official tasked to judge whether she “is healthy enough to be able to stay in prison”.
“She told the commissioner about her uncontrollable moods, particularly panic and anger, her repeated insomnia, and bouts of severe depression,” the statement said. “She mentioned having periods of feeling suicidal and having panic attacks, and particularly the impact of the way she is being shown on TV, which had induced particular agitation and depression.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case has drawn huge attention in the UK since Johnson mistakenly said this month that she had been training journalists in Iran, despite her family insisting she had been there on holiday with her daughter.
Since Johnson’s erroneous statement, which he has since corrected and reluctantly apologised for, state television in Iran has broadcast a series of programmes making fresh claims that she acted illegally. This has affected Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been able to watch them on TV from inside Evin prison.
On Tuesday, the Iranian judiciary’s spokesman, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, acknowledged that the UK has been making efforts to release her.
“It is natural that they are making such efforts, but we’ll have to say that this person [Zaghari-Ratcliffe] has been convicted and her sentence is definitive and currently she’s serving her sentence but the question is whether she’s eligible for [early] release,” he said, according to Mizan Online, the news agency affiliated to the Iranian judiciary.
“We don’t care about the diplomatic push [on her case], we have to consider whether she is eligible for conditional release and whether [her sentence] could be commuted,” the spokesman added.
The Revolutionary Guards, the elite force that arrested Zaghari-Ratcliffe at the airport, has accused her of attempting to orchestrate a “soft overthrow” of the Islamic Republic. She and her young daughter, Gabriella, were about to return to the UK from Iran after a family visit.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been accused of spying, trying to topple the Iranian establishment and running “a BBC Persian online journalism course which was aimed at recruiting and training people to spread propaganda against Iran”.
She worked for BBC Media Action between February 2009 and October 2010 before moving to Thomson Reuters Foundation, the news agency’s charitable arm, as a project manager.
Zaghari-Ratcllife was taken to the prison clinic on Thursday due to the shock of seeing “propaganda on Iranian state TV”, according to her husband.
“When she saw the claims while sitting with the other women prisoners watching the evening news, Nazanin fell off her chair, she told her husband this weekend,” Ratcliffe’s statement said.
“She collapsed onto one of the prisoner’s beds, eyes closed. She started to sob, but she could not. No sound came out. It took her more than a minute before she was able to breathe properly and cry. She lay completely white, coughing as she couldn’t call out.”
It was the second time she had had such an attack in recent weeks.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has said the allegations made in the TV programme are false. “After 20 months they put out these false stories – why are they doing this to me and my family? I don’t watch the news or read the papers anymore. I can’t stand it anymore,” she said, in quotes provided by her husband.
“I felt like I am drowning, deep in the sea, and no one can help me. I cannot see the light.”
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is believed to have told the commissioner she has suffered uncontrollable panic attacks, insomnia, bouts of severe depression and suicidal thoughts. Photograph: Handout/Press Association