Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalls horrors of her six-year imprisonment

‘The most hostile, quiet form of torture’: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalls how she was locked up in solitary confinement in a windowless 1x2metre cell and separated from her daughter while she was still breastfeeding

  • Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was forced to sign a false confession while ‘under duress’
  • Confession was also signed in front of a UK government official, she said today
  • Allegations have been set out in 20-page letter to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
  • She revealed allegations during an interview with BBC’s Emma Barnett today 
  • Comes after she was freed after UK agreed to settle historic debt in March 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has recalled the horrific details of her six-year imprisonment in Iran and the moment she was separated from her daughter.

Speaking to the BBC’s Emma Barnett on Woman’s Hour, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe addressed questions for the first time since returning to the UK in March. 

The British-Iranian dual national, 44, explained how she was locked up in solitary confinement and forced to live in a 1x2metre cell with the light on all day and night.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe detailed how her daughter’s love kept her going during her stay in solitary confinement and when Boris Johnson reportedly confirmed to her she was only released after an historic £400m debt was settled between the UK and Iran.

She explained: ‘[Iran] is a government that talks a lot about motherhood and family, I was a victim of something exactly opposite. That was horrifying – solitary confinement is the most hostile, quiet form of torture.

‘You lose a sense of time, it [solitary confinement] works in a way that they mess your mind up and break you. 

‘At times I thought it was breaking me. The reason they keep you in solitary is to force you to confess into something you haven’t done.’

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe held back tears as she discussed the ’emotional legacy’ of her captivity after being held over accusations of spying – a charge both she and the UK deny. 

She also said that even though ‘things are calming down a bit’ after two months of freedom, she still questions reality after spending six years as a political hostage. 

When she handed her daughter to her parents at Tehran Airport on March 17, 2016, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was still breastfeeding Gabriella (above) who was just 22-months-old. The next time they would see each other Nazanin was being held as a political prisoner in solitary confinement in Evin prison

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalled the horrific details of her six-year imprisonment in Iran and the moment she was separated from her daughter at Tehran airport

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe revealed the allegations while speaking to Woman’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett for a special edition of the Radio 4 programme

When she handed her daughter to her parents at Tehran Airport on April 3, 2016, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was still breastfeeding Gabriella who was just 22-months-old. 

The next time they would see each other Nazanin was being held as a political prisoner in solitary confinement in Evin prison.

She admits all she thought about in those early days of imprisonment was ‘the love of [her] daughter, cuddling her and kissing her’.

‘I went through guilty feelings of maybe I was not a good mother to my child’, she explained.  

‘One of the things that I was confident about was that it is not acceptable, anywhere in the world, to separate a mother and a baby. I was confident along the way there would be mercy, they might have problems with me but not with my child.’

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe revealed a sense of enduring female camaraderie inside the prison walls 

‘Women were building a life, they reminded themselves that there was life outside of the walls.

‘Knitting, sewing, yoga, cooking together. It was all part of the everyday routine.’  

Nazanin landed back on British soil in March, along with fellow dual national Ashoori, after the UK finally agreed to settle a long-standing debt to Iran.

The 44-year-old was detained on security charges in 2016 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard at Imam Khomeini airport after a holiday to Iran during which she introduced her daughter to her parents.

She was accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.

Ashoori, 67, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran. He was detained in Evin prison for almost five years, having been accused of spying. Both have consistently and vigorously denied the allegations.

Their release came after months of intensive diplomatic negotiations between London and Tehran.

The charity worker said she was taken to the airport without seeing her parents on the day she was allowed to fly home. 

Nazanin was freed in March along with fellow detainee Anoosheh Ashoori after the UK agreed to settle a historic £400 million debt dating to the 1970s after 5 years in Iranian jail on propaganda charges.

Both countries have said the fine and the release of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe are issues that should not be linked.

Speaking to Woman’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett for a special edition of the Radio 4 programme which also aired on BBC1, she said: ‘Instead I was made to sign the forced confession at the airport in the presence of the British Government.

‘They told me that ‘you won’t be able to get on the plane’. And I knew that that was like a last minute game because I knew they were… They told me that they have been given the money.

‘So what is the point of making me sign a piece of paper which is incorrect? It’s a false confession.’

She added: ‘The whole thing of me signing the forced confession was filmed.

‘It’s a tool. So I’m sure they will show that some day.’

Tulip Siddiq, the Ratcliffes’ constituency MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, today called for Ms Truss to answer the ‘serious questions’ about Nazanin’s treatment.

The Labour politician said: ‘The Foreign Secretary must set out in Parliament what she knew about this shocking revelation and what consequences it could have for my constituent.’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside 10 Downing Street following a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this month

A 20-page letter has been sent to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss detailing allegations that she was forced to sign the document

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella pictured outside 10 Downing Street

It was argued in the UK that the Iranian authorities insisted Nazanin would not be able to leave unless she signed the form, and that the British official did not force her to sign it, only passing on Tehran’s demand.

Nazanin was arrested in 2016 on spying charges when she was due to fly home after visiting her parents with her daughter.

But she was jailed for five years on charges that she was plotting to overthrow the Iranian government – with a further 12 months for propaganda against Iran last year.

She has maintained her innocence throughout the jail term, insisting she was on holiday visiting her family.

A Government spokesman said: ‘Iran put Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe through a horrendous ordeal, right up to the moment she left the country.

‘Throughout that time the UK Government was working tirelessly to end her unfair detention, but it was always in Iran’s gift to release Nazanin and allow her to return to her family.

‘We urge the Government of Iran to end its practice of unfairly detaining British and other foreign nationals, and we will continue to work with international partners to that end.’ 

Today’s revelations come after her husband Richard Ratcliffe alluded to ‘mistakes made at the end’ of the ordeal in Iran earlier this month.

Speaking after his wife’s first meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson since her release, Mr Ratcliffe said: ‘I think there are lessons to learn, there is a wider problem.

‘We talked about the mistakes made at the end. It was rough at the end, and I think, when Nazanin is ready to talk about it, that is something that we need to go through.’

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori arriving at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, on March 17

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe used her first meeting with Boris Johnson since he was Foreign Secretary to impress upon him the consequences of him mistakenly saying she was training journalists in Iran earlier this month

He also told reporters that the-then Foreign Secretary Mr Johnson had failed to ‘specifically’ apologise at their meeting for his 2017 gaffe where he wrongly claimed that Nazanin had been training journalists at the time of her 2016 arrest.

The meeting was the first time the two had met since Mr Johnson, then Foreign Secretary, made the mistake which led to an Iranian court using the comments as ‘proof’ that she was engaging in propaganda. 

After facing a sustained backlash over the remarks, Mr Johnson previously equivocated that he was sorry ‘if (he had) inadvertently caused any further anguish’.

It comes after an announcement last month that MPs are to stage an inquiry into the detention and release from Iran of Nazanin and Ashoori.

The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee said it will take evidence on how their cases were handled by British officials as part of a wider investigation into ‘state-level hostage situations’.

Following their return, both detainees have been critical of the failure of the Foreign Office to secure their freedom sooner. 

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