Parents of mother detained in Iran urged husband not to reveal her sentence

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The parents of detained British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe urged her husband not to reveal her jail sentence for fear of making her situation worse, her husband said.

The 37-year-old, who was accused of plotting to topple the Iranian regime, was jailed for five years by Judge Salavati of Iran's Revolutionary Court on Tuesday - the day after the UK and Iran upgraded embassy relations.

Her sentence was revealed on Friday afternoon when she was allowed to telephone her husband, who branded it  "a punishment without a crime".

The charity worker from Hampstead, north-west London, was arrested at Imam Khomeini airport on April 3 as she was trying to return to Britain after a holiday visiting family with her daughter Gabriella.

The toddler, who celebrated her second birthday in June without her mother or father, had her passport confiscated and is being cared for by her grandparents in Tehran who speak little English.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife had begged him over the phone to do "whatever you can" to free her from Evin prison, which she described as "horrendous". 

He said: "Certainly, my family in Iran - my in-laws - would like me to stop and requested me, with great sincerity and fear, that I shouldn't reveal the fact that she'd been sentenced, we should let the lawyer do his job and wait for the appeal.  We just had to take a different judgement of it.

"I can't control the games that are being played with Nazanin, but in the end truth is the best answer.

"It is important for me to be consistent and I will continue to speak out about my wife and daughter until they are both home."

During Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's trial, the extensive media coverage was interpreted as a sign of her guilt, Mr Ratcliffe said, calling this "the most extraordinary circular argument".

He added that her family in Iran were distraught and he could understand their caution. 

He said: "I'm sitting in London being public, provoking anger and a reaction. They get that reaction - it doesn't happen to me. They are the ones going to the prison, meeting the Revolutionary Guard ... the Revolutionary Guard aren't going to come knocking on my door. They are under very different circumstances." 

Back in April when Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first detained, Mr Ratcliffe envisioned that, in the very worst-case scenario, she would be back in time for Christmas.

She has now been detained for more than 150 days. The pair missed their daughter's second birthday in June and were forced to spend their seventh wedding anniversary apart last month.

The family will appeal against the sentence, but if that does not succeed he will have to think about bringing them back separately. 

Under Iranian law, only one of Gabriella's parents can bring her back to England, but Mr Ratcliffe believes there is a risk that he could be detained if he enters the country. 

He said: "The only way of doing that is face-to-face. I'm not going to send someone to bring back my daughter. It's no small thing to take her away from her grandparents.

"She is too little to understand. She gets to see mummy in a special place and she misses mummy, but she can't call mummy ever ... clearly at the beginning she was much more traumatised when she hadn't been separated from Nazanin for more than a day. I don't think she understands."

The Foreign Office said it was deeply concerned by the reports and that Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson would continue to raise Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case with their counterparts in Iran.

"While we continue to press the Iranians for consular access and for due process to be followed, we also stand ready to help get her daughter back safely to the UK if requested," a spokeswoman added.