At the corner of the wide sidewalk facing the Foreign Office, a stone’s throw from Downing Street, three single tents have been pitched. The ground is strewn with painted pebbles, bouquets of flowers and “Free Nazanin” signs. On a camping chair, Thermos close at hand, Richard Ratcliffe begins his twentieth day of the hunger strike on Friday, November 12, in the hope that his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British hostage of the Tehran regime since 2016, is finally allowed to return to the United Kingdom.
The day before, this man who has fought continuously for five years, was able to talk to James Cleverly, the British Secretary of State for North Africa and the Middle East, after the latter met the Deputy Minister for Affairs Iranian foreigner, Ali Bagheri Kani, passing through London. But nothing concrete came out of the interview. “This is one of the most depressing dates I have ever had. Maybe because we were hoping things would finally move forward. The Minister [Cleverly] just told us that the case of Nazanin had been discussed with the Iranians ”, laments Mr. Ratcliffe, intense blue eyes, sunken cheeks and a weak voice.
London debt to Tehran
On Thursday, the Foreign Office clarified that James Cleverly “Continue to work hard to secure the release of British citizens unjustly detained in Iran”. In addition to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – convicted by the regime for espionage, an accusation she has always denied – two other binationals, Morad Tahbaz and Anoosheh Ashoori, have been imprisoned in recent years by Tehran, without valid reasons, according to their families. The latter believe that the British government has not explored all avenues to release them.
One of them concerns the payment of a debt of 400 million pounds sterling (468 million euros), owed since the 1970s by London to the Iranian regime, because the United Kingdom had not honored a delivery of tanks to the country. This debt is “The reason why Nazanin was arrested, the reason why she is still being detained [condamnée à nouveau à un an de prison, en avril 2021, mais en liberté surveillée, après une première condamnation à cinq ans de prison] », assure Richard Ratcliffe.
“There are certainly practical modalities to resolve [sous sanctions occidentales, l’Iran ne peut percevoir aucun versement direct], but no legal barriers ”, adds this accountant by profession, whose life has been turned upside down by the detention of his wife. “These sums could very well go to financing anti-Covid vaccines for Iran”, suggests Lim Jones, his brother-in-law, a general practitioner, who has watched over him since the start of his hunger strike. He spends nights in the tent, by his side, taking turns with other family members.
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Little hope for quick release of Iranian detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe