WASHINGTON - British human rights activists have held a vigil outside the Iranian embassy in London to appeal to Iran's president to free a British Iranian woman detained for nine months on unspecified security charges.
Richard Ratcliffe, husband of detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, spoke to VOA's Persian service from the scene of Monday's vigil, saying he wrote a letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appealing for the release.
“[The letter] asks for him to intercede and ensure that justice is served in Nazanin's case,” Ratcliffe said via Skype. He said he also asked Rouhani for help in securing an Iran visa so that he can visit Nazanin and their infant daughter, Gabriella, whom he said he has not seen in 10 months.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is 38, was detained at Tehran's international airport in April 2016 as she was trying to return home with her daughter to Britain from a visit to relatives in Iran. An Iranian court sentenced the charity worker in September to five years in prison for undisclosed security offenses. British media have said she is accused of plotting to overthrow the Iranian government.
Her husband has said Iranian authorities kept her in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin prison last year before transferring her to a cell with other women in late December. Gabriella has been staying with Zaghari-Ratcliffe's parents in Tehran since her mother's detention began.
Ratcliffe said he is waiting for an outcome to a January 4 court hearing in which he said his wife appealed her five-year prison term. “We're hoping any day soon that a good verdict will be received, but we haven't heard anything,” he said.
Reaching out to Iranian diplomats
British rights activist Rebecca Dallison, whose group Amnesty International helped organize the London vigil, told VOA that participants placed Ratcliffe's letter to Rouhani at the Iranian embassy's door, along with several letters that members of the public have written to Zaghari-Ratcliffe to express their support. Speaking by phone from the event, Dallison said the letters to Zaghari-Ratcliffe were among more than 30,000 messages addressed to the detainee as part of Amnesty's “Write for Rights" campaign encouraging people to write to prisoners whose rights are “under attack” around the world.
Dallison said Iranian embassy officials told her via an intercom at the door that they would collect the letters. VOA called the embassy, but a woman who answered the phone said there was no one available to comment.
The Amnesty activist said about 20 people joined the vigil. It was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of Iran's release of U.S. journalist Jason Rezaian, who had been detained for 18 months also in connection with alleged security offenses that were not detailed by authorities. “We really want to keep the pressure going to get Nazanin released too, and reunited with her family,” Dallison said.
Using detainees as leverage?
Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter, was one of four Americans freed from an Iranian prison on January 16, 2016, hours before the United States and other world powers finalized a deal with Tehran on its nuclear program. At the same time, the United States pardoned seven Iranian prisoners and dropped charges against 14 other Iranians.
Rezaian filed a U.S. federal lawsuit against the Iranian government in October, claiming he was taken hostage and tortured in an attempt to extract concessions from the U.S. government. Ratcliffe has said he believes his wife also has been used as a bargaining chip by Tehran in its disputes with the West.
The Washington Post has said Rezaian is writing a book about his ordeal, tentatively titled Hostage: 544 Days, 400 Million Dollars, the Nuclear Deal & Me. It said the book is scheduled for publication next year. VOA contacted Rezaian's publicist seeking a comment from the journalist about Zaghari-Ratcliffe's vigil, but received no response.
VOA's Persian Service contributed to this report.