Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Iran pressed high-profile prisoner to become regime spy

Iranian ambassador summoned by British foreign office as anger over detainees grows

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured with her daughter, has been held in Tehran for more than two years. AFP
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, pictured with her daughter, has been held in Tehran for more than two years. AFP

Two interrogators from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard pressured a detained British-Iranian national to become a spy for the clerical regime in return for her freedom, her husband said on Monday.

The two men visited Ms Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison to ask her to collect information about the UK's international development ministry and a small London campaigning organisation.

The 40-year-old British resident was told “it would be better for her and her family in future if she cooperated”, according to an account of the conversation relayed to her husband Richard.

The visit came days before Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe announced the start of a three-day hunger strike with fellow prisoner Narges Mohammadi, an Iranian human rights activist. Both women have been refused medical checks and treatment for long-standing problems while they have been in jail.

The interrogators visited Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe on December 29, the day after she marked 1,000 days in prison, Mr Ratcliffe told reporters on Monday as the pair started their hunger strike.

She was arrested in April 2016 on unspecified charges after visiting her parents in Iran with her daughter Gabriella, now aged four. Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charitable arm of media organisation the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been widely portrayed as being a spy in Iranian state-run media.

She was told if she did not cooperate with the request to spy, then the authorities had the power to hold her whatever pressure was brought by the UK government, according to her supporters.

She was told to think about the request for a few days before the men returned for her answer – but they have not been back since she revealed her plans to go on hunger strike a few days later.

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Her family said she believed the visit from the two officials followed condemnation of the Iranian regime by UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt to mark her 1,000th day in custody.

It was the first time since she was first arrested that she was asked to spy, her family said.

Mr Hunt summoned the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Office on Monday where he discussed the lack of medical care. His department did not say if he raised the issue of the attempt to persuade her to spy on the UK government.

Last November, Mr Hunt raised the case with Iranian officials during his visit to the Islamic Republic. At the time, he retweeted pictures of him meeting with her family and playing with her young daughter, saying: "No child should have to go this long without their mother."

Mr Ratcliffe said that he had written to the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in protest at her treatment and the attempt to co-opt her into spying.

“Not only is it outrageous after all the abuse she has been put through by the Iranian authorities to demand she cooperates to ensure the safety of herself and those she cares for, it is also narcissistic,” he wrote in the letter to Mr Zarif.

“Who do they think they are to hold Nazanin’s and Gabriella’s life in thrall merely as a demonstration of their own power to themselves?

“It is also asking her to do things that are patently absurd. The fact remains that all this is built on a mum and a baby.”

A senior medical official from Evin visited the two women on the eve of the hunger strike, offering medical assistance in an attempt to prevent the protest. The women decided to press ahead with the plans after the official He refused to give a written undertaking that they would receive all the necessary treatment.

Monique Villa, the chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said the refusal to give her medical tests amounted to "slow and cruel torture".

"As her employer, I repeat that Nazanin is totally innocent and certainly not spy material, as portrayed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard."

Updated: January 14, 2019 07:09 PM

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