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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband: I will join hunger strike for as long as I can

Richard Ratcliffe will join his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in her hunger strike for as long as he can, he has said, as the couple sought to increase pressure on the Iranian government for her release after three years’ imprisonment in Iran on charges she denies.

But Ratcliffe said it was important the action not go “to the bitter end” because of their five-year-old daughter, Gabriella, who is also unable to leave Iran and return to the UK.

Asked what he realistically expected from the Iranians in response, Ratcliffe said from outside the Iranian embassy in London, where he is maintaining a fast and vigil: “The message from Nazanin is: enough is enough. I think she wanted to make it clear to the authorities in prison that this can’t go on.

“My job in campaigning is always to amplify her message and to make it visible. That’s partly why I’m here, making it really clear.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian national, was arrested during a holiday in the country, and later convicted on spying charges, which she has always robustly denied. The allegations have been criticised as a means for the country to pursue a policy of hostage diplomacy, particularly since the Iranian foreign minister mooted the possibility of a hostage swap, but soon appeared to retract the proposal.

“I spoke to her yesterday. She was calm, she said she had started doing it and we’ll see how long it lasts. I think my job is to keep on going as long as she goes, if I can,” Ratcliffe told the BBC on Sunday.

“We are both parents to Gabriella and obviously it’s important that this doesn’t go to the bitter end.”

Asked by Andrew Marr how he was feeling, Ratcliffe said: “Cold and hungry, and a bit wet at the moment. It’s given me a new insight into what it’s like to sleep on the pavements.”

On whether the response from the British political class had been satisfactory, Ratcliffe said: “Look, I’ve been pretty rude about a number of politicians over my time. She’s still in prison. My job is to keep campaigning, which means to keep complaining about the government and the ministers that are in charge.

“At different points things have happened that have not gone perfectly, and she still remains in prison so its our job to keep going.”

The Conservative leadership frontrunner, Boris Johnson, was criticised after “mistakenly” claiming that Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thompson-Reuters Foundation, was “training journalists” in Iran, and Ratcliffe said he had at times resented the former foreign secretary as a result.

“He clearly made a mistake and clearly tried to correct it, and made a promise that he wasn’t able to deliver on,” he said. “At times I have resented him for it and there are bits I did resent him for. But yes, I think he probably got over-criticised for some things and under-criticised for some things, and the job is now with Jeremy Hunt and we look to him to solve it.”

Later in the programme, Hunt, the foreign secretary, was questioned over the “mixed signals” he was said to have conveyed to Ratcliffe about his wife’s plight.

“I was being very honest when I spoke to Richard yesterday,” he said. “Sometimes, you hear signals from the Iranian regime that they want to resolve this issue, and sometimes they seem to go hard line.

“What I say to the Iranian government is that whatever the disputes that we have between us as countries … there is an innocent woman at the heart of this. Don’t drag her into it. She must be allowed to come home.”

Last month, the UK advised British-Iranian dual nationals against all travel to Iran for the first time, following the sentencing of Aras Amiri, an Iranian national who worked for the British Council in London to 10 years in jail on spying charges.

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