“HEARTBROKEN” Strictly Come Dancing host Claudia Winkleman yesterday visited a frail Richard Ratcliffe on day 16 of his hunger strike – and declared herself in “awe” of him.
She accompanied pal Victoria Coren Mitchell, host of BBC quiz show Only Connect, to the dad’s Whitehall protest over wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being held in Iran.
Claudia Winkleman and Victoria Coren Mitchell visited a frail Richard Ratcliffe on day 16 of his hunger strike[/caption]
Mum-of-three Claudia, 49, told The Sun: “We just wanted to come and see him so he knows we’re thinking of him and we’re with him. I’m heartbroken for the family and in awe of Richard.”
Weeping Victoria, 49, also a mother, added: “I know Richard because we were neighbours and our children played together.
“Claudia is my best friend. I wanted her to meet Richard because, as soon as you do, you see he’s a really lovely, gentle accountant to whom something terrible has happened.
“Day by day I see him get weaker and thinner and more ill — but never less than certain he’ll do everything he can for his child’s mother.
“I wanted to come and give Richard a hug and let him know the country is behind him.”
Richard, 49, of West Hampstead, West London, who has seven-year-old child Gabriella with Nazanin, 42, has braved freezing temperatures to camp outside the Foreign Office for over a fortnight.
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He hopes his vigil will spur the British Government to do more to secure the release of his wife — who was arrested in Iran in April 2016 and accused of being a spy, which she strongly denies.
Pale and drawn, Richard said of his celebrity visitors, who also came to his vigil last week: “They’ve brought that spotlight to our case so I’m really appreciative.
“They just wanted to let me know lots of their viewers care — that there are thousands of people out there following Nazanin’s story and wanting the Government to do the right thing.
“You want a hunger strike to be noticed, you don’t want it to just pass by.
“All mothers understand our story.
“Being separated from a baby unfairly is the thing Nazanin most resents and it is the thing that mothers relate to.”
Clutching a hot water bottle, Richard knows that going without food for 25 days will cause his body permanent damage.
He said: “It’s day 16 of the hunger strike so beginning to get tough. It’s cold, I’m not eating.
“I’m drinking water, herbal tea and having an electrolyte tablet every so often — but no food. I’m not hungry, that goes after a couple of days, I’m just very tired.”
Victoria, who is married to Peep Show star David Mitchell, said: “Richard’s wife is trapped abroad.
I’m heartbroken for the family and in awe of Richard.
His little girl Gabriella has had no mum to brush her hair or take her to buy a school uniform.
“We can see his terrible suffering.
“He’s here on the steps of the Foreign Office starving himself, desperate to get his child’s mother home.
“The worst torture for a child is to be kept away from her mother.
“But it could be fixed, she could be brought home. Richard’s here to say to the world, ‘Will you help?’.
“Nazanin was meant to be home on Mother’s Day.
“Her sentence was finished. I thought the powers that be would have the conversation to bring her home
“I don’t understand why that didn’t happen. If there are people in the Foreign Office who know why, I’d like them to explain it.
“Gabriella made a Mother’s Day card. She thought she was coming home.”
Victoria added: “People have said to me online, ‘Richard’s effectively a single parent now.
The worst torture for a child is to be kept away from her mother.
Victoria Coren Mitchell
“How can he risk the ill-ness that the hunger strike will bring on?’.
But I would say, ‘How can he risk that his daughter doesn’t think he’s doing everything he can to rescue Mummy?’.
“What’s he meant to do? Get on with his life? Have a little holiday and go to the pictures?
“If it was you or me and our beloved partner was being kept away from us, we’d do the same thing.”
Richard believes his wife “is caught in a dispute between two states” over an old £400million debt Britain refuses to settle with Iran.
She had been on a holiday visit to Iran in 2016, after taking Gabriella – who was still a baby – to see her parents, but after her April arrest she was then jailed in the September for five years following conviction on unspecified “national security-related” offences.
Earlier this year a medical assessment of Nazanin revealed she is a victim of torture, suffers major depression and PTSD and requires urgent psychiatric treatment.
In 2019, Gabriella, who had been staying with her grandparents in Tehran, returned to London to live with dad Richard and start school.
A hunger strike is an extreme act but an act of hope. You’re still hoping to persuade someone to change things.
Nazanin was released in March last year to live at her parents’ home under house arrest but then in April she was sentenced to another year’s imprisonment for participating in a rally outside the Iranian embassy in London in 2009.
In October, she lost her appeal and her family fear she could soon be returned to prison.
Richard said: “Nazanin’s new sentence means they could put her back in jail any time soon.
“I’m hoping by us being here, that at least protects her for a bit.
“A hunger strike is an extreme act but an act of hope. You’re still hoping to persuade someone to change things.
“It’s not a legal issue, it’s not a sanctions issue, it’s a political issue. It’s a bargaining chip on both sides.
“That’s not OK, you need to protect your citizens.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Iran’s decision to proceed with these baseless charges against Nazanin is an appalling continuation of the cruel ordeal she is going through.
“Instead of threatening to return Nazanin to prison, Iran must release her permanently so she can return home.
“We are doing all we can to help Nazanin get home to her young daughter and family and we will continue to press Iran on this point.”
l If you would like to help, you can sign the petition at change.org/p/borisjohnson-free-nazanin-ratcliffe.
Richard Ratcliffe said: ‘A hunger strike is an extreme act but an act of hope. You’re still hoping to persuade someone to change things’[/caption]
Claudia said: ‘I’m heartbroken for the family and in awe of Richard’[/caption]
Victoria Coren Mitchell said: ‘The worst torture for a child is to be kept away from her mother’[/caption]