Nazanin ‘fear­ful’ as she pre­pares for hunger strike

Richard Rat­cliffe tells Donna Fer­gu­son why his wife is de­ter­mined to refuse food in jail protest from to­mor­row

The Observer - - News -

Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe is “feel­ing a strong sense of trep­i­da­tion” ahead of a hunger strike she in­tends to start to­mor­row, but will pur­sue the high­stakes strat­egy de­spite fears that the Ira­nian author­i­ties will cut off her daugh­ter’s vis­its as a re­sult, her hus­band has said.

The Bri­tish-Ira­nian dual na­tional plans to strike for three days in protest against be­ing de­nied med­i­cal care in Tehran’s Evin prison, but will con­sider ex­tend­ing the protest if her de­mands to be seen by a doc­tor are not met, Richard Rat­cliffe said.

“The ques­tion is whether she’ll just strike for the three days she an­nounced or whether she’ll de­cide to go on,” said Rat­cliffe, whose phone calls with his wife were cut back af­ter she an­nounced her plan to go on hunger strike. “She’s giv­ing slightly mixed mes­sages, depend­ing on whether she’s feel­ing daunted or an­gry ... It’s her de­ci­sion to strike. Now she’s made it, I think we will re­spond to how things de­velop and try not to feel too much panic.”

Rat­cliffe said his wife was scared that her de­ci­sion would re­sult in fur­ther reprisals from the Ira­nian author­i­ties af­ter her food ra­tions were cut last week and a pro­gramme was aired on state TV in Iran re­peat­ing al­le­ga­tions she is a Bri­tish spy. In par­tic­u­lar, the cou­ple fear her twice­weekly vis­its with their daugh­ter, Gabriella, will be stopped as pun­ish­ment for the hunger strike.

“Out­side con­tact has al­ready been re­stricted,” said Rat­cliffe. “When she was in soli­tary con­fine­ment she went on hunger strike for six days and they sent her fam­ily in to plead with her. It’s not im­pos­si­ble that fam­ily vis­its are dis­rupted. And then when she’s weak and vul­ner­a­ble, fam­ily is sent back in to plead she should end it.”

He added that the For­eign Of­fice had sent him ad­vice stress­ing the neg­a­tive phys­i­cal ef­fects of a hunger strike, which he found too painful to read closely. “We know a hunger strike has sig­nif­i­cant phys­i­cal con­se­quences the longer it goes on for and Nazanin is feel­ing a strong sense, of trep­i­da­tion. But there aren’t many ways she can say, ‘Enough is enough. Take me se­ri­ously’,” he said.

Rat­cliffe said his wife, who is 40 and has been de­tained in Evin since her ar­rest in April 2016, had made the de­ci­sion to strike be­cause she wanted to send a mes­sage that she was “at the end” and “can­not take any more”.

She has been de­nied med­i­cal at­ten­tion for lumps in her breasts and re­fused neu­ro­log­i­cal care for neck pains and numb­ness in her arms and legs, de­spite be­ing re­ferred by the prison doc­tor for spe­cial­ist treat­ment for both. She has also been banned from see­ing an out­side psy­chi­a­trist.

Rat­cliffe has been strug­gling to keep his wife’s spir­its up and si­mul­ta­ne­ously cope with his own anx­i­eties. “This week I haven’t gone to sleep be­fore about 2am and I’ve been wak­ing up early. I carry on be­cause you just do, don’t you? But I’ve been half dread­ing this mo­ment and calm­ing my­self that the mo­ment isn’t ac­tu­ally here yet. It cer­tainly feels like the stakes have risen sig­nif­i­cantly. I think we’re on the precipice,” he said.

Richard Rat­cliffe says phone calls with his wife have been cut back. Zaghari-Rat­cliffe with her daugh­ter, Gabriella, while on tem­po­rary re­lease last Au­gust.

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