'No grounds for hope here' – Richard Ratcliffe on day 20 of hunger strike

Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign Office, campaigning for the release from Iran of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Richard Ratcliffe on day 20 of his hunger strike - Credit: Georgina McCartney

"I don’t see that anything the government is doing challenges the gameplaying around us."

Those were the words of Richard Ratcliffe on day 20 of a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office, after meeting with a government minister to discuss the detention in Iran of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The 43-year-old West Hampstead mum was arrested in Tehran in 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government – charges widely refuted.

On Thursday (November 11), Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, met with UK government officials ahead of fresh nuclear talks. Afterwards, Richard met with James Cleverly, minister for Middle East and North Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). 

Richard told the Ham&High: “I don’t see any grounds for hope here. I don’t see that anything the government is doing challenges the gameplaying around us. 

“I think we had gone into that meeting hoping for signs of a breakthrough and we came out feeling there were no such signs. 

“The government needs to fundamentally look at how it’s protecting people because, fundamentally, they aren’t.

“In the end we are caught in a fight between two governments, and we need the British government to protect Nazanin."

Nazanin has been told her detention is linked to an outstanding debt of in the region of £400 million owed to Iran.

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According to the Guardian newspaper, the UK has told Iran it could not pay the debt owing to restrictions brought about by sanctions, quoting Tehran’s deputy foreign minister.

Mr Bagheri Kani, the paper adds, said the two sides had agreed a payment of less than £500 million taking interest into account, and added: “Now what the UK government are bringing up is the limitations on banking interactions, saying it is a difficulty, and finally they cannot do it.”

He said the issue of repaying the debt was separate from the detention of British-Iranian nationals, but said: “If these incidents were resolved, it would naturally have to influence the relationship between the two countries.”

Richard said campaigners need "to pressure the government in all different ways we can”, but added that in the next couple of days he will discuss his health with doctors. 

“I felt really tired yesterday – probably a mixture of all the interviews and meetings and ministers, stresses and hope and then disappointment afterwards," he said. 

“Today is damp and cold and, energy wise, I think I’m okay, but without doubt we are in the last couple of days now.” 

He said Thursday's meeting was “disappointing” and that he "would expect" another meeting with foreign secretary Liz Truss, adding: "And I’d expect it to be better briefed, and [she will be] ready to answer questions, and more a competent strategy than the last one.”

“I do think the government is an odd mixture of being very provocative and refusing to settle it, and timid of hostage taking, and essentially allowing Iran to abuse Nazanin’s rights. I just don’t get it, it doesn’t make any sense to me.”  

He thanked all the visitors he has had from Hampstead, West Hampstead and Kilburn.

"We’ve had lots of lovely visitors," he said. "It’s been important to experience that, and I really appreciate it.” 

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with daughter Gabriella outside the Iranian Embassy

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with his daughter Gabriella during a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in March 2021 - Credit: PA/Ian West

Richard’s mother, Barbara Ratcliffe, told the Ham&High: “Its horrid watching him. This is desperation because it’s gone on far too long but I’m hoping he’s not going to be doing it for much longer." 

Barbara said she struggles to come to terms with the years Nazanin has lost with her young daughter, Gabriella.  

“She’s been so denied," she said. "I think that’s really cruel to do that to any woman and her baby. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive our government for putting her through that, and Rick through that, and Gabriella. 

“Naz loves sewing and I like sewing, and I would love to teach Gabriella how to sew, which I’ve done for my other granddaughters, but I don’t want to because that’s taking one pleasure from her. 

“Maybe she’ll be home in time to do it.” 

Barbara said she was “unsurprised” by the outcome of yesterday’s meeting. 

She said: “Partly they can’t get all three factions of the Iranians to agree, but actually they could do things like paying that debt which we told them about back in 2016 after Nazanin was told she wouldn’t be released until that was paid, and they’ve not paid it.”

James Cleverly in November 2019

James Cleverly in November 2019 - Credit: Liam McBurney/PA

A Foreign Office spokesman said the Iranian deputy foreign minister met Mr Cleverly and senior government officials on Thursday, and Foreign Office representatives reiterated that Iran should take the opportunity to conclude the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) nuclear deal on the table.

They added: “The Iranian deputy foreign minister was also pressed on the need for Iran to urgently release all British nationals unfairly detained in Iran, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz.

“Minister Cleverly met Richard Ratcliffe again today to reaffirm our commitment to reuniting his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, with her family in the UK.

“The foreign secretary, Minister Cleverly and the FCDO continue to work hard to secure the release of all those British nationals unfairly detained in Iran.”