Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen, is set to go on hunger strike after spending 2 years in a Tehran Jail after being denied access to basic healthcare rights. Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since April 2016 for “allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian Government,” and sentenced to five years of imprisonment. Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has been working relentlessly with the British ambassador to free her. According to him, the strike is pointed towards the Prison officials who have continuously rejected her calls to bring in specialist doctors in order to look over her neck pains and numbness in her limbs.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager at the Thomas Reuters Foundation, had gone on a family visit to Iran with her four-year-old daughter in April 2016. She was held at the Imam Khomeini Airport by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the basis of “national security charges and for leading a foreign-linked hostile network”- though no officials charges were declared as public. By September 2016, she was sentenced to prison by Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, and in 2017 she lost both her appeals in Iranian Supreme Court to rescind her sentence.
She maintains innocence and both the Thomson Reuters Foundation and BBC Media Action, where she had worked alongside Iranian bloggers and writers in training courses as a junior assistant, have issued statements saying that she was on vacation in Iran. The head of Kerman Province Justice Department in Iran said that participation in such training courses was funded by British Intelligence Services under the guise of legitimate activities. As reported by the Iranian Press TV, Nazanin was arrested over “her involvement in post-election riots and a suspect in creating websites and campaigns in the social media in 2009”. Many other participants in the course were also sentenced to 11 years in jail.
Involvement of the British government in attempts to bring Zaghari-Ratcliffe home has increased tensions between the two countries. Prime Minister Theresa May had initially raised concerns over her arrest, however since Iran does not recognize dual citizenship and therefore considers Zaghari-Ratcliffe an Iranian national, progress has been challenging. The British government has warned other dual nationals not to travel to Iran, insisting that their limited powers may not be enough to bring them back. The British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has vowed to do everything in his power to bring her home. Hunt summoned the Iranian Ambassador in order to push for Nazanin’s access to medical care, however Iran resented this as an “interference in their affairs and unacceptable”.
Faced with tough choices, the British Foreign Office is currently considering its options to grant diplomatic protection to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. If done, this would then make the case a formal, legal dispute between Britain and Iran and potentially cause massive implications for the relations between the counties. The United Nations has called for Nazanin’s release on multiple occasions, and it is clear that Politics has come to play a central role in this case. Here, a mother’s freedom hangs in balance – until the day she gets free, one can only wait.