Nazanin's daughter was 'forced to wear a sack over her head while visiting Iranian jail'

22 March 2022, 10:34 | Updated: 22 March 2022, 12:54

By Asher McShane

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's daughter was forced to visit her mother in prison with a sack over her head so the young girl couldn't remember where she was being held.

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The cousin of Nazanin's husband Richard laid bare the conditions the dual British-Iranian national was forced to endure during her six-year detention in Iran.

She was freed after the British government agreed to pay £400m to Tehran over a tank deal pre-dating the Islamic revolution.

Barely days after returning to the UK, figures including ex-foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt leapt to her defence over whether she had been "grateful" enough to the government for managing to get her out, after she said she should not have been detained for so long.

Read more: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: I should have been freed six years ago

And speaking to LBC's James O’Brien, Alex Loftus, Richard's cousin, set out the punishing conditions Nazanin was subjected to by Iranian authorities.

"Gabriella had to walk through the prison with a sack over her head so that she didn't know where mummy was being held in the prison," Alex said.

Nazanin's daughter Gabriella was forced to wear a 'sack' visiting her mother
Nazanin's daughter Gabriella was forced to wear a 'sack' visiting her mother. Picture: Alamy

She was asked by James about Monday's press conference, in which Nazanin said she didn't entirely agree with Richard Ratcliffe thanking the government.

Nazanin said at the time: "I mean, how many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home? Five?"

Alex told James: "Let's face it, you've got to be a very strong lady to actually get through six years, including 30 days in solitary confinement... in a room the size of a double bed with a blanket to lie on, a blanket as her pillow and a blanket over the top of her - 30 days being like that.

"On top of the six years of missing out on her daughter going to school, her first days at school, brushing her hair, giving her a kiss good night, reading stories.

"She's gone from a baby to an eight year old, virtually an eight year old, so yeah, she's missed out on so much."

Alex added: "She was so weak when she first saw Gabriella for the first time. She couldn't pick her up. Less than two and she couldn't pick her up because she'd lost so much weight and couldn't walk properly.

"She was having blackouts, her hair was falling out. I think people are now forgetting the harsh reality of what she went through for all that six years."

Jeremy Hunt, who was foreign secretary between July 2018 and July 2019 and failed to secure her release from Iran took to Twitter today to say Nazanin doesn't need to express "gratitude" saying the government "owes her an explanation."

Mr Hunt posted: "Those criticising Nazanin have got it so wrong. She doesn’t owe us gratitude: we owe her an explanation…

"She’s absolutely right that it took too long to bring her home. I tried my best - as did other foreign secretaries - but if trying our best took six years then we must be honest and say the problem should have been solved earlier."

Richard Ratcliffe and Nazanin at yesterday's press conference
Richard Ratcliffe and Nazanin at yesterday's press conference. Picture: Alamy

"Ministerial turnover may have been a factor. So might initial reluctance to pay the debt because people worried it would look like a ransom. So undoubtedly were the complications over how to pay a country that is sanctioned.

"But it is right that an independent investigation now takes place as to what those reasons were, something I would be glad to assist with.

"Such a review also needs to assess whether our current policy is sufficient to stop hostage taking in the future."

There was also fury as 'racist trolls' made #sendherback start to trend on Twitter.

One person wrote: "She rightly called out some of the failings by Foreign Ministers who failed in the negotiation of her release? And #sendherback is trending?! People are sick."

Another posted: "Absolute shame on anyone questioning anything about her reactions or her words today. How do you sleep at night? Vile."

At a press conference on Monday, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it had taken too long for the Government to pay the £400 million debt to Iran, which helped secure her release.

She said although she could not be happier to be home, "this should have happened six years ago".

But she has faced a backlash online with commentators suggesting she should instead be grateful or that she was somehow at fault.

Mr Hunt said the turnover of ministers in the role and a reluctance to pay the debt, which dated back to the 1970s, may have been a factor. He said the Government did not want to appear to be paying ransom money.

The MP said he did everything he could while he was foreign secretary, but added: "It took too long. That is the honest truth."

He added: "I think we do need some kind of independent inquiry into this. I would welcome the Foreign Affairs Select Committee doing it."

On the criticism being levelled, he said on Twitter: "This kind of open scrutiny as to whether we could do things better is what happens in democratic, open societies. It may be something they don't welcome in places like Iran and Russia but it is why, ultimately, we are wiser and stronger."

Speaking on Monday, referencing her husband thanking the Government a few moments earlier, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said: "I do not really agree with him on that level."

The 43-year-old said she had seen five foreign secretaries over the course of six years, adding: "That is unprecedented given the politics of the UK. I love you Richard, respect whatever you believe, but I was told many, many times that, 'Oh we're going to get you home.'

"That never happened."

She said this resulted in her finding it difficult to place trust in them.

Asked if she feels angry with the Government that it took so long to get her home, she said: "I think the answer is clear. I cannot be happier than this, that I'm here.

"But also, this should have happened six years ago."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe told reporters: "I'm not going to live for the rest of my life with a grudge over the past six years."

She said what happened to her was "cruel", adding: "This moment is so glorious for me."

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said it took a "very, very long time" for politicians to sort it out.

Mr Hunt's backing for an "independent investigation" comes after the call for a probe was made by Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe's MP, Tulip Siddiq.

MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, Ms Siddiq, has called on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee to investigate.

She said she owes it to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe to ask questions about why the debt was not paid for "so long".

"So, I've written to Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, to ask for a review into what happened in Nazanin's case," she said.