'No breakthrough' says Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband after meeting PM

23 January 2020, 17:23

Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella outside No 10 while Nazanin (right) remains in prison
Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella outside No 10 while Nazanin (right) remains in prison. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband has said there was "no breakthrough" with Boris Johnson after a meeting to discuss freeing the imprisoned mother.

The charity worker has been detained in Tehran for almost four years after she was arrested and accused of spying, which she and the UK Government vehemently deny.

Richard Ratcliffe and their five-year-old daughter Gabriella met the Prime Minister in Downing Street on Wednesday with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

Any optimism over Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's chances of freedom has been dampened by the soaring tensions with Iran provoked by the US killing of its top general, Qassem Soleimani.

But Mr Ratcliffe continued to apply the pressure during a meeting with the PM, who he has criticised for his handling of the charity worker's case and potentially worsening her plight.

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, his daughter Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe and his mother Barbara
Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, his daughter Gabriella Zaghari-Ratcliffe and his mother Barbara. Picture: PA

Clutching his daughter's hand, Mr Ratcliffe told reporters: "In truth, no breakthrough," when exiting the meeting.

He said he had urged the PM to be "brave" in his dealings with Iran, and said he was convinced Mr Johnson is "personally committed" about her situation - though he did not apologise for his past mistakes.

But the father added: "Sympathy isn't enough to get us out of this."

He said a "gap" remains between his sense that the Government must be "tough with Iran".

"I don't think I have come away thinking Nazanin is coming out tomorrow or even next week, and I will think carefully about what I tell her on the phone on Saturday about where the hope is to come," Mr Ratcliffe added.

The charity worker has been detained in Tehran for almost four years
The charity worker has been detained in Tehran for almost four years. Picture: PA

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 41-year-old mother who lived in London, is serving a five-year sentence after being arrested in April 2016, but their are fears Iran could bring further charges.

Her family and the UK Government have always maintained her innocence and she has been given diplomatic protection by the Foreign Office to apply extra pressure.

Gabriella, who recently returned from Iran to live with her father, was present in Thursday's meeting, during which they gave the PM a wallet Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe made. She was happy to see Larry the cat, but declined an apple juice from the PM's aides.

The husband said it was clearly recognised in the meeting that his wife was being held hostage as a "chess piece", but acknowledged the UK was walking a diplomatic "tightrope".

Mr Johnson has been persistently criticised for wrongly claiming, when he was foreign secretary, that Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists at the time of her arrest.

Four days later she was summoned to an unscheduled court hearing during which Mr Johnson's comments were cited as proof she was engaged in "propaganda against the regime".

Mr Ratcliffe said they did not discuss the past in their latest meeting and wanted to keep the focus on efforts going forward.

His wife is among as many as five people with dual British-Iranian nationality, or with UK connections, believed to be in prison in Iran.

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