Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Iran taking innocent people hostage to use as diplomatic pawns, says ex-foreign secretary

The campaign to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has drawn global attention to Iran’s hostage-taking of innocent people to use “as a pawn of diplomatic leverage”, a former foreign secretary has said.

Hailing the efforts by Richard Ratcliffe to secure his wife’s freedom, Jeremy Hunt said whatever the dispute between countries, blameless families should not be made to suffer.

The senior Tory MP made his comments as Mr Ratcliffe, continued his hunger strike in protest at the UK government’s response to his wife’s case.

Mr Ratcliffe met with Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Thursday to discuss moves to free his wife, but said afterwards he had been left “frustrated” by the outcome.

The 43-year-old British-Iranian aid worker has been detained in Iran since 2016 after being accused of plotting to overthrow the Tehran regime.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taking her daughter Gabriella to see her family when she was arrested and subsequently sentenced to five years in prison, spending four years in jail and one under house arrest.

The mother-of-one, who has always denied any wrongdoing, now faces being returned behind bars after losing her latest appeal.

According to her family, she was told by Iranian authorities that she was being detained because of the UK’s failure to pay an outstanding £400m debt to Iran.

She is one of several people with British or dual-British nationality detained in the country.

Mr Hunt, who served as foreign secretary from 2018-19, has been to see Mr Ratcliffe on his hunger-strike off Whitehall.

The MP said: “He’s a very, very brave man.

“He has fought tirelessly for five-and-a-half years since Nazanin’s been detained.

“The thing that is different about Richard is that he decided right from the outset to go public about his campaign even though the advice that he and the other families were receiving was not to go public.

“What’s that meant is that the whole world has come to understand Iran’s hostage-taking and the way they are grabbing innocent people and putting them in prison as a pawn of diplomatic leverage.”

He added: “Whatever the disputes are between countries, we should never make the lives of innocent families dependent on solving a diplomatic dispute.”

Mr Hunt said the foreign secretary was “actively engaged” in the case and added: “We are all just hoping and praying that Nazanin does not have to go back to prison.”

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