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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Women threaten hunger strike over Iran prison conditions

High-profile inmates say they have been blocked from receiving hospital treatment

A photo of Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran, on display at their home in north London. PA
A photo of Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been jailed in Iran, on display at their home in north London. PA

Two high-profile women prisoners at Iran’s Evin jail are to go on hunger strike in protest at the failure by authorities to give them proper medical treatment.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national, and Iranian rights campaigner Narges Mohammadi jointly announced they would start an initial three-day protest on January 14 and continue until their demands were met.

Both women have complained of health problems including numbness and paralysis linked to neurological problems but have been refused numerous requests for hospital checks and treatment.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spent more than 1,000 days in prison after she was arrested at Tehran’s airport while returning to the UK from visiting family with her young daughter.

She was jailed for five years on unspecified espionage allegations that state media has linked to her current and former employment with the charitable wings of international news organisations. They suggested she was seeking to undermine the regime.

Her supporters have said she is the pawn of a broader political game that has had profound personal consequences. Her family is split between the UK and Iran and her hopes of having further children are dwindling after marking her 40th birthday in custody on December 26.

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Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said that prison officials had refused to allow doctors to examine lumps in her breasts or treatment for numbness in her arms and legs.

Medical restrictions for all prisoners appear to have tightened since she was given three days leave to stay with her family in Iran in August, he said.

“The prison has blocked all sorts of treatment in the last couple of months,” he told The National. “Someone who had a heart attack was allowed out, but that’s about it. There has been a hardening of conditions in prison.”

She told him on Tuesday about her plans for the hunger strike after weeks of growing despair about the possibility for release.

She shares a political prisoner’s wing at the prison with Narges Mohammadi and the pair had discussed their plans for the protest.

“Nazanin has again been driven to despair because of he hopelessness of her plight,” the couple’s MP, Tulip Siddiq, said in a tweet. “What is the PM’s plan to bring her home? Quiet diplomacy has failed.”

The foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was innocent and should be allowed home. "How can the Iranian authorities allow an innocent mother to feel she needs to resort to this?" he wrote in a tweet.

Ms Mohammadi, 46, is serving a 16-year prison sentence for spreading propaganda and campaigning to stop the death penalty, say campaigners. She has served previous prison sentences after angering authorities with her work helping the families of political prisoners.

The sentence is the latest jail term for the campaigner and deputy director of the Iranian Defenders of Human Rights Centre, set up by the London-based Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi.

Ms Mohammadi previously went on hunger strike in 2016 after the authorities refused to allow her to speak by phone with her children who live in Paris with their father, Taghi Rahmani.

Mr Rahmani was described by Reporters without Borders as Iran’s most frequently jailed journalist for his work with underground newspapers.

Updated: January 3, 2019 07:24 PM

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