Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe as­sessed by doc­tors over fit­ness to stay in Ira­nian jail

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Patrick Win­tour and Saeed Ka­mali De­hghan

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

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