The health of a British mum locked up in an Iranian prison on “secret charges” is rapidly deteriorating as she suffers dramatic weight and hair loss and is left “virtually unable to walk”, her family have said.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 38, a British-Iranian citizen, was detained as she was trying to return to Britain with her daughter Gabriella after visiting family in Iran last April.
Since then she has been held as a political prisoner and sentenced to five years behind bars for charges which have not been made public.
The charity worker was accused of plotting to topple the Iranian regime and an appeal made to lower her sentence was rejected in January.
Now Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sister-in-law Rebecca Jones, who lives in Cardiff, said that while her brother Richard’s wife was no longer being kept in high security, she was starting to suffer physically.
Evin Prison, where she is held, is known for its severe conditions and its impact on prisoners’ health.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe is said to have suffered dangerous weight loss, hair loss and has become virtually unable to walk.
GP Mrs Jones said: “Nazanin is still in Evin Prison. She’s now in a political wing, so she is no longer isolated and is with other prisoners so she is starting to make friends.
“Physically, her health is deteriorating. She now has problems with her left shoulder, neck and left arm.
“She had a visit from a neurologist who wanted her to go to hospital but every prison has rejected that, though negotiations are ongoing.
“She now has more regular visits from Gabriella with her mum and dad and she gets occasional calls to Richard once or twice a month.”
Richard Ratcliffe has not seen his wife or daughter since before they left for Iran, with Gabriella in the care of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s parents who live in Tehran.
Mrs Jones said: “She’s still very desperate to come out as soon as possible. She’s having a lot of panic attacks, anxiety and restless nights which are affecting her physical health as well. In many ways things have got better for her but I think it has hit home that her release might not be imminent any time soon.
“Of course she has been in prison with women who haven’t been released for seven or eight years.”
Back in the UK, Mr Ratcliffe, of Hampstead, north-west London, has been in contact with the UK Government to petition them to put pressure on Iranian regime to release his wife.
Mrs Jones said: “I think the longer this goes on the more frustrating it is for Richard.
“The whole family are bewildered why nobody high up in the Government hasn’t asked for her release. When you go back and talk to the Government and nothing much has changed, it’s disheartening really.
“There are good days and bad days. Richard tries to be upbeat but when he’s in his flat on his own he can get quite low.”
Mrs Jones will be holding an event in Cardiff city centre next Sunday to celebrate Nowruz, the traditional Iranian festival of spring, considered the start of the new year among Iranians.
It is hoped more than 100 people will attend the event, with local Amnesty groups supporting it.
Readings will be performed, including a letter from Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. After this, 30 hyacinths will be planted in the market garden next to St John the Baptist Church, to symbolise Nowruz.
Mrs Jones said: “We’re doing this to mark Nowruz which is why Nazanin went out to Iran in the first place and to show her we are still thinking of her.
“When we have events like this, it’s uplifting to get support from people and it helps Nazanin and her family.”
A spokesman from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are deeply concerned that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence has been confirmed following an unsuccessful appeal while Iran continues to refuse the UK consular access to her.
“The UK’s Minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, has spoken to his Iranian opposite number to express our concerns.
“The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have both previously raised this case with their counterparts.
“We have been supporting Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family since we were first made aware of her arrest.
“Mr Ellwood has met her husband in London and her family in Tehran to assure them that we will continue to do all we can for her.
“We are continuing to press the Iranians for consular access and for due process to be followed, and are ready to help get her daughter back safely to the UK if requested.”