LONDON -- The hunger-striking husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained for more than five years in Iran, said talks on Thursday between British and Iranian officials appeared to have made little, if any, progress on securing her release.
Richard Ratcliffe, who has been on hunger strike for 19 days outside the Foreign Office in central London in an effort to ratchet up pressure on the British government, said he was nearing the end of it “as a strategy."
Ratcliffe was speaking after he met with James Cleverly, a British foreign minister, to hear details of his talks with Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani.
“If I’m honest, quite a depressing meeting," Ratcliffe said of his meeting with Cleverly. “I had hoped there would have been some kind of a breakthrough and recognition in the meeting with Iran — maybe that will be happening away from us but I don’t have any hopes."
Ratcliffe began his demonstration last month after his wife lost her latest appeal in Iran. He has been sleeping in a tent outside the Foreign Office's main entrance in an effort to pressure the British government to secure the release of his wife and other detained dual British-Iranian nationals.
“I think there’s a basic medical limit on how long you do a hunger strike for," Ratcliffe said. “I made a promise to Nazanin, I made a promise to my family, mum in particular, and to the family doctors, that I won’t take it too far.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe served four years in prison and one under house arrest after being taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.
In May, she was sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system” for having participated in a protest outside the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 — a decision upheld this month by an appeals court. The verdict includes a one-year travel ban, meaning she wouldn’t be able to leave Iran until 2023.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the news agency, and was arrested as she was returning home to Britain after visiting family. Rights groups accuse Iran of holding dual-nationals as bargaining chips for money or influence in negotiations with the West, something Tehran denies.
Ratcliffe said his wife is being used as “leverage” by Tehran, specifically with regard to the U.K.'s failure to pay an outstanding 400 million-pound ($540 million) debt to Iran.
“We asked about the debt and they wouldn’t talk about it, I mean really clammed up," he said.
Ratcliffe said Cleverly wanted to emphasize that the meeting with the Iranian delegation had been “cordial."
“But you know we’re still stuck in the same status quo," he said. “I don’t feel they’ve given a clear enough message to Iran that hostage-taking is wrong. I don’t think there are any consequences to Iran at present for its continuing taking hostages of British citizens and using them."
The Foreign Office said British officials had pressed Iran to “urgently” release Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other detained dual U.K.-Iranian nationals during the meeting with Kani.
It said British officials "continue to work hard to secure the release of all those British nationals unfairly detained in Iran.”