A British-Iranian woman has been jailed for five years by an Iranian court on charges that remain secret, her family said yesterday.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, mother to a two-year-old girl, was accused by the hardliner Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) of trying to overthrow the Iranian theocracy and was arrested last April. The charges have not been made public.
The 37-year-old, who works for the London-based Thomson Reuters Foundation, was apparently visiting her relatives in Iran at the time.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, has denounced the Iranian Revolutionary Court that sentenced her, and is controlled by the IRGC, by saying: “A sentence with secret charges still seems crazy. Literally it is a punishment without a crime.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran as she tried to leave the country with her infant daughter, Gabriella, who was removed from her mother’s care by Iranian authorities before being eventually taken to her grandparents.
The BBC reported that the British-Iranian charity worker, who has been taken to the notorious Evin Prison, said in a telephone call to her husband: “I can’t bear to be in this place any longer”.
“I have been here so long. Do you understand what it is like to be a mother kept away from her child this long?” Zaghari-Ratcliffe told her husband, adding: “I have missed over a fifth of [Gabriella’s] life. What does that do to her?”
In a statement, the UK Foreign Office said: “We are deeply concerned by reports that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been sentenced without confirmation of the charges made against her.”
Amnesty International have started a petition asking British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to do more to secure her release, as well as another British citizen currently being held in Iran.
Iranian arrests of foreign nationals
Iran has been in the news regularly for arresting and incarcerating foreign nationals, including those from the United States, Britain, Canada and France.
In a notable case last June, 65-year-old Canadian Homa Hoodfar, an anthropology professor at Concordia University in Montreal, was detained by IRGC operatives and was subsequently charged with “dabbling in feminism and security matters” before being held in Evin Prison.
Hoodfar remains in detention where her health condition has recently deteriorated to the point where she has been hospitalised.
Iranian notoriety for its arrests of foreign nationals stems from numerous violent deaths that have occurred to prisoners.
A more infamous case was the death of Canadian-Iranian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. She was arrested by the Iranian regime after photographing the prison, before being allegedly raped and murdered 19 days after her incarceration.
The IRGC are a military organisation established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after he overthrew the secular Iranian regime in 1979 as a way of countering the power of Iran’s armed forces. As “guardians of the revolution”, the IRGC have considerable power and authority, including operating their own courts.