The husband of a British-Iranian woman who has been detained for more than five years in Iran said Saturday that he is ending his hunger strike outside Britain's Foreign Office after 21 days.
Richard Ratcliffe has been sleeping in a tent outside the Foreign Office’s main entrance in an effort to pressure the British government to secure the release of his wife and other detained British-Iranian nationals. He began his demonstration last month after his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, lost her latest appeal in Iran.
Ratcliffe, who was joined by the couple’s 7-year-old daughter Gabriella and several supporters as he announced the end of his hunger strike, thanked the many well-wishers who stopped to talk to him but said the failure of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to drop by was “telling.” He added that his wife has requested a phone call from Johnson.
While no breakthrough happened in the last three weeks, Ratcliffe said his hunger strike had shone a “greater spotlight” on his wife’s case and added pressure on the governments in London and Tehran.
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“I think we’ve stopped the backward movement," he said.
Ratcliffe said he had started to get pains in his feet overnight, and a discussion with a doctor persuaded him to end the hunger strike. He said he planned to go to a hospital to get checked and hopes to be able to eat something after that.
“I didn’t want to go out in an ambulance," he said. "I want to walk out with my head held high.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe served five years in prison after being taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, and was arrested as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family. Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.
In May, she was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for having participated in a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009. An appeals court last month upheld the verdict, which includes a one-year travel ban, meaning she wouldn’t be able to leave Iran until 2023.
Her husband appeared glum after he met Thursday with British foreign minister James Cleverly in the wake of discussions he had with Iranian officials in London.
He's hoping that his hunger strike will resonate as the government has seen “there’s a huge depth of care around the country for Nazanin’s case, and they need to take notice.”
Ratcliffe has said his wife is being used as “leverage” by Tehran, specifically with regard to the U.K.’s failure to pay an outstanding 400 million-pound ($540 million) debt to Iran.
Ratcliffe’s local lawmaker, Tulip Siddiq, said she had secured a parliamentary debate on Zaghari-Ratcliffe's case set for Tuesday with cross-party support.
“Nazanin knows that so many people are doing what they can to bring her home," Siddiq said in a tweet.