British-Iranian Woman Is Moved From Tehran Jail to Psychiatric Hospital


LONDON — A British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran since 2016 has been moved to a hospital psychiatric unit, her family said, prompting fears for her well-being.

The moving of the woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, was initially seen as a positive development, because she had been requesting treatment for months. But her family said on Wednesday that they had not been able to speak with her for days.

They say she is under the watch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a powerful arm of the Iranian military. And they worry that the group’s involvement could mean that she is being pressured by the government.

“Even now it still seems like games of power and control are being played by the Iranian authorities — even at the point of hospitalization,” her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said in a statement, which said that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been moved from prison to the hospital on Monday.

“We hope again this is the beginning of the end,” he said of her detainment.

Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 41, a native of Iran who has lived in London for more than a decade, has been held in Iran since 2016, when she was detained in a Tehran airport. She had been trying to return to Britain with the couple’s young daughter after visiting family in Iran.

At the time, she was working as a program director at the Thomson Reuters Foundation — a charity independent of Thomson Reuters and Reuters News — and was accused of plotting to overthrow Iran’s government.

Mz. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family and the foundation have vigorously denied the charge.

Her situation was exacerbated in November 2017, when Boris Johnson — who was then Britain’s foreign secretary and is now the leading candidate to become prime minister in the coming weeks — erroneously told Parliament that Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran “simply teaching people journalism.”

This statement was later used against her in a court hearing, and she was ultimately sentenced to five years in prison.

Mr. Ratcliffe said that his wife spoke to her family on Monday before being transported to the hospital. He said that she told them: “I was healthy and happy when I came to Iran to see my parents. Three and a bit years later, and I am admitted to a mental health clinic. Look at me now — I ended up in an asylum. It should be an embarrassment.”

Mr. Ratcliffe said his wife was visited by a psychiatrist two months ago, who recommended that she be hospitalized as her mental health was deteriorating because of her imprisonment.

The British government has made attempts to intervene on her behalf, and the United Nations has long pressed for her release, but there has been little movement from the Iranian authorities.

Tensions between Britain and Iran have been elevated in recent weeks as a continuing dispute between Iran and the United States over the 2015 nuclear accord signed by Iran and major world powers has put a strain on Tehran’s interactions with the West.

Early this month, British forces enraged the Iranian authorities when they seized an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar on suspicion that the vessel was carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions on the war-torn country. Iran then threatened to retaliate. Last week, British defense officials said Iranian forces had tried to block a British tanker from passing through the Strait of Hormuz, a critical passageway for crude oil.

To call attention to her own plight, Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe went on a 15-day hunger strike last month. Her husband joined her for the duration, camping out in front of the Iranian Embassy in London to put pressure on Tehran to release his wife.

“I am sitting here to make the point that we need to sort this out,” he said at the time. “They have effectively kidnapped my wife.”

Ellie Kennedy, a campaigner for Amnesty International UK, said the latest move raised fears that Iranian authorities were “playing games with Nazanin’s health and well-being.”

“The fact that this has been done without her family’s involvement suggests the real motive may be more to do with exerting pressure on Britain, rather than providing Nazanin with treatment,” she said in a statement, adding that Iran has been known to use “prisoners as pawns in political battles.

The British Foreign Office said in a statement that the government remained “extremely concerned” about Ms. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s well-being, and noted that the British Embassy in Tehran had requested consular access to her in the hospital.

“We urge Iran to allow family members to visit and check on her care as a matter of urgency,” the Foreign Office statement said. “We will continue to call for her release at the highest levels.”

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