Husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says time is right for daughter to return to UK
The husband of a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran has said the time is right for their daughter to return home to the UK – but admitted it will “feel like abandonment” for his wife.
It has been three years since Richard Ratcliffe last saw his five-year-old daughter Gabriella, who has been living with her grandparents in Tehran since her mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested.
The couple have now decided to send Gabriella back home to the UK by Christmas so she can start school.
Mr Ratcliffe told the PA news agency: “It’s going to be tough on both of them. We decided it was the right time for [Gabriella].
“There was a part where all our lives had stopped. Gabriella has been a lifeline for Nazanin. That’s the hardest part. It will feel like abandonment.
“Gabriella has been her coping mechanism and it will be taken away from her.
“We’re hoping the separation is a very short period and Nazanin gets released from prison.”
Mr Ratcliffe has had to communicate with his daughter by Skype as the Iranian authorities did not give him a visa to travel to the country and his daughter’s passport was temporarily taken away.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in April 2016 and sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, which she vehemently denies.
Her fight for freedom has seen her endure hunger strikes and solitary confinement, amid a major diplomatic row.
Her family had wanted to return Gabriella to the UK to start the school year in September, but this was postponed after Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken to a psychiatric hospital.
She was returned to prison after a week, but not permitted phone calls with her husband.
Mr Ratcliffe, who went on a 15-day hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London to protest against the imprisonment, admitted that he is “not confident” the Iranian authorities will give an exit visa to allow Gabriella to leave.
But he said it would be a “pretty big call to block it”.
He added that he was concerned about what effect the separation from her mother will have on Gabriella, who has been visiting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe at least once a week for three years.
“She has lost her mother and father already, and now she will lose her grandmother and grandfather,” he said.
“Nazanin gets three telephone slots a week. She uses two of them for me and one of them for her mum. Her calls will mostly be for [Gabriella] now, I’m sure.”
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has pleaded with the Iranian authorities to free her so she can go to London with Gabriella.
“I have no hope or motivation after my baby goes. There is no measure to my pain,” she wrote in a letter addressed to “the mothers of Iran” that was smuggled out of Evin prison and published online in Farsi and English.
“In the near future, my baby will leave me to go to her father and start school in the UK. It will be a daunting trip for her travelling and me left behind,” she wrote.
“And the authorities who hold me will watch on, unmoved at the injustice of separation. That first day at school is not for me.”
When asked about fatherhood, Mr Ratcliffe said: “I will be a very rusty parent, in negotiating bed times, all those things being a dad.
“I’m looking forward to having her home – showing her her room and toys, rediscovering all the things she used to like when she was little, discovering all the things she likes now, exploring together the neighbourhood, seeing the world for its opportunities for colouring in.
“Gabriella is looking forward to being here, staying up late watching SpongeBob SquarePants, going to the zoo, meeting her Nana’s Terrier called Beth.”
Ellie Kennedy, Amnesty International UK’s Individuals At Risk Campaigner, said: “It’s difficult to imagine the anguish this decision must have caused Nazanin in her current predicament.
“After all Nazanin and her family have been through, it’s time for the Tehran authorities to release Nazanin and let her be properly reunited with her daughter.”