A petition made to the Prime Minister to free a young mother being held in Iran has gone viral, amassing 151,992 (at the time of writing) signatures in the last three days.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 37-year-old British-Iranian charity worker, was arrested in Iran on 3 April by the country's Revolutionary Guard as she waited to board a plane back to the UK. She has been held in solitary confinement for the last five weeks, despite not being formally charged with an offence.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been visiting family in the country along with her 22-month-old daughter, Gabriella, whose British passport was confiscated by authorities. The infant has since been placed in the care of her Iranian grandparents.
The petition was launched on Monday by Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, Richard Ratcliffe, a 41-year-old from Hampshire, who wrote that his wife had not been allowed access to a lawyer, or been allowed to make contact with him.
“It will be torturing her to be stuck in solitary confinement, away from her baby and all her family, thinking about all the worry that they are going through,” Ratcliffe told The Daily Telegraph.
“I have not been able to reach her at all, or speak to her to remind her that she has done nothing wrong.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was born in Tehran but has lived in Britain since 2007, was moved to an unknown location following her arrest, thought to be some 600 miles south of the Iranian capital.
“The cruelty of the situation seems both outrageous and arbitrary – that a young mum and baby can be treated as some national security threat is absurd,” Ratcliffe said. “It is a cruelty that is clearly deliberate and designed.”
Authorities did, however, allow Zaghari-Ratcliffe a family visit with both Gabriella and her parents yesterday, after 38 days of solitary confinement.
"The family and Nazanin were transported separately to meet in a nice hotel in Kerman, where they had lunch together, and she was able to hold and play with Gabriella for a visit of more than 2 hours," Ratcliffe wrote on his petition page.
"Notwithstanding everything else, I am grateful to the Iranian authorities that they allowed Nazanin to see Gabriella in a nice place," he added.
Ratcliffe has been unable to see his daughter for the last five weeks.
Ratcliffe launched the petition on website change.org against the advice of the Foreign Office, who told him not to publicise his wife's capture.
However, after weeks of waiting for a resolution, he decided to go public with the story, hoping the attention will put extra pressure on authorities to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose arrest officials have not yet given any reason for.
"The advice was to go subtly, allow them to do their work behind the scenes,” Ratcliffe said.
“When I told the Foreign Office that I was going to go public, they said ‘it’s your decision, but we don’t recommend it’. It’s been 37 days now and that’s too long.”
Despite being held in solitary confinement, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been allowed to phone her parents a number of times, but only in return for cooperating during interrogations. During the calls, she said she was forced to sign a confession and that her arrest is a matter of national security.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe works in the UK for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, whose chief executive, Monique Villa, has asked Iran for her release.
In a Reuters statement she said, "At the Thomson Reuters Foundation she has no professional dealings with Iran whatsoever. In fact, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has no dealings with Iran and does not operate in the country.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe met her husband while studying in the UK, and they married in Winchester in 2009, five years before their daughter was born.
At the end of his online petition, Ratcliffe wrote simply, "Please help bring my wife and daughter home by signing my petition calling on our Prime Minister David Cameron to use his power and intervene."
Images: Richard Ratcliffe