Having Nazanin back in UK ‘would be best Christmas present’

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the return of imprisoned Briton Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to the UK would be the best Christmas present for her and the country.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport in April 2016.

The 39-year-old, from Hampstead, North London, was later sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, a charge she vehemently denies.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has campaigned exhaustively for her release, saying she is suffering extreme mental and physical hardship at the notorious Elvin prison.

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hunt who visited Iran on Monday, said his message to the hardline Islamic regime was to allow her access to medical treatment – adding it is “very, very important”.

Highlighting the annual campaign of Mr Ratcliffe to try and get his wife home for her birthday on December 26, Mr Hunt said: “If she could come home, wouldn’t that be the best Christmas present, not just for her but for the whole country?”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe detained

Mr Hunt pressed his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Zarif about her case in September when they met in New York on the fringes of a United Nations General Assembly.

The month before she had been granted a three-day release but her request for an extension was denied and she was forced to say goodbye to her four-year-old daughter, Gabriella, and return to jail.

Asked whether there are any grounds for optimism in the case of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Mr Hunt said it is a “more challenging” situation.

He said during his visit to Tehran he was refused a meeting with her, and instead met Gabriella, who he revealed drew a picture of him in a bow tie and that she probably thinks he is a “Tory toff”.

My request to Iran: please please get Nazanin the medical treatment she needs and allow her home for her birthday on 26 Dec https://t.co/kwT5liXDe3

— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) November 25, 2018

Mr Hunt also held a doll that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe had made for his own daughter, despite suffering from numbness in her shoulder and hand, which made the process difficult.

During his appearance on The Marr Show, Mr Hunt also reiterated an earlier warning to the regime.

“Iran is one of the great civilisations of the Middle East, it wants to be a great regional power,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“If they want respect then do not start locking up innocent people as a tool of diplomatic leverage – it is totally and utterly unacceptable.”

Asked whether they are listening to him, Mr Hunt said he thinks they are, but that “whether they are going to do anything is a different matter”.