The husband of a British-Iranian woman who has been detained without charge in Tehran for 83 days has spoken of his anger over the Foreign Office's handling of the matter, saying he feels "gamed" by officials who value trade above the welfare of British citizens and objected to his going public with the case.
Richard Ratcliffe told the Guardian he felt trade relations had been prioritised over the welfare of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and their 2-year-old daughter Gabriella. "I don't think Nazanin and Gabriella's case, nor any of the others, is a top priority at the moment," he said, referring to 4 other British passport holders he understands are being detained in Iran. "The top priority of the Foreign Office is trade."
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation as a project manager, was arrested at Tehran's international airport by members of the country's Revolutionary Guard on 3 April. She had been about to return to the UK from a family visit in her home country. This month the Revolutionary Guard released a statement accusing her of fomenting a "soft overthrow" of the Islamic Republic, which her husband described as "farcical".
The 37-year-old charity worker has since been held in solitary confinement under interrogation and refused access to a lawyer. If convicted of espionage charges she could face up to 20 years in prison or the death penalty.
Ratcliffe did not meet Foreign Office officials until after he had made his wife's case public in May, 36 days after her arrest, and then only at his request. "It felt almost like the Foreign Office resented me for going public. I was angry, and I felt gamed," he said.
"We would have a series of calls and there would be a sort of strange dynamic where occasionally it felt like they were almost trying to get me on record as having said how helpful [they had been]. It's like dealing with a fucking insurance company trying to get out of paying a claim. This is a really odd definition of support, isn't it? It is a really odd dynamic to be covering your arse that early on."
Ratcliffe describes the government's position as: "'This is a delicate matter, we'll hope the Iranians will be nice.' It's like, delicate? I mean, if this was your wife? They can use political capital to force the situation. But there has been no public statement of criticism by a senior politician, and the Iranians notice that."
Zaghari-Ratcliffe is 1 of 3 female dual-citizenship foreign nationals to have been detained by the Revolutionary Guard in the past 3 months. But whereas since March the US state department website has warned dual-passport holders not to visit Iran, the Foreign Office website does not.
Gabriella's British passport was confiscated by the Iranian authorities, and she is being looked after by her grandparents. Under Iranian law only her father or mother can bring her home. Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being detained 620 miles from her daughter in Kerman prison.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We have been supporting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family since we were first made aware of her arrest. Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has met personally with the family to reassure them that we will continue to do all we can on this case."
The matter is understood to have been raised with Iranian officials, including by the foreign secretary with the Iranian foreign minister.
Source: The Guardian, June 25, 2016