Experts from the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) who conducted a virtual physical and psychological evaluation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe last year have found that the British-Iranian dual national suffered from serious physical and psychological traumas that are “highly consistent” with torture and ill-treatment. Nazanin will only be able to begin recovering from her experiences of torture and ill-treatment once reunited with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and her six-year-old daughter, Gabriella, in the UK.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her husband, Richard Radcliffe, prior to her imprisonment.
Last year, the IRCT received a request from London-based anti-torture NGO REDRESS to conduct an independent medico-legal evaluation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to assess her allegations of torture and ill-treatment during her imprisonment in Iran over the course of the past five years. In response, the IRCT requested a comprehensive physical and psychological evaluation by two members of the IFEG, internationally renowned health experts Prof Dr Michele Heisler and Dr Lilla Hardi. The IFEG is an international body of 42 preeminent independent forensic specialists from 23 countries, who are recognised global leaders in the medico-legal investigation of torture and ill-treatment.
On 3 April 2016, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe waited contently in line with her mother and one-year-old daughter in Tehran Airport to return home to her husband in London, after celebrating Persian New Year (Nowruz) with her parents. The Revolutionary Guard hastily intercepted Nazanin and transported her blind-folded to an unknown location. A British-Iranian dual national and then BBC Media Action and Thomson Reuters Foundation employee, they interrogated Nazanin for multiple hours and accused her of espionage. They threatened to take her daughter away from her if she refused to hand over her computer and social media passwords, and forced her to sign a charge sheet stating that she was indeed a British spy. Following 45 days of solitary confinement in Kerman Prison, renowned for its deplorable conditions, Nazanin was handed down a five-year-long prison sentence which she served across two different Iranian penitentiaries, a psychiatric ward and, most recently, under house arrest in Tehran, all under physically and psychologically gruelling conditions.
Nazanin is not the only dual or foreign national to have been detained on vague charges and accusations of espionage. In 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran reported that several other individuals – Kamran Ghaderi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Massud Mossaheb – each find themselves detained under similar conditions as those experienced by Nazanin.
The IFEG report reveals the full severity of Nazanin’s physical and psychological suffering over the course of this period. Nazanin spent multiple extended periods in solitary confinement and participated in three hunger strikes. She was subjected to regular interrogations during which she was often blindfolded or handcuffed. Guards told her that her husband was a spy, a liar and an adulterer, and a female guard taunted Nazanin with the presence of her own young daughter outside of her cell door. Nazanin was often refused water and other basic necessities. She was also denied medical check-ups when she found lumps on her breasts that might be cancerous. Whilst interned in the psychiatric ward of Imam Khomeini Hospital, she was handcuffed and chained to her bed in a private room and kept under constant observation by armed guards. All of this was exacerbated by the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the possibility of ever returning home to the UK, where she hoped to finally be reunited with her husband and young daughter.
Richard Ratcliffe holds a photograph of Nazanin and their daughter, Gabriella. Richard has been campaigning for Nazanin’s release and return to the UK since her arrest in 2016.
The IFEG doctors found the physical and psychological findings resulting from their examination to be “highly consistent” with Nazanin’s allegations of torture and ill-treatment from her imprisonment and house arrest. They recommended several courses of treatment for Nazanin’s recovery, finding her “in urgent need of psychiatric pharmacological and psychotherapeutic support, as well as evaluation and treatment of her physical symptoms”.
Threat of continuing legal persecution
Last Sunday marked the end of Nazanin’s five-year prison sentence. None awaited this moment as anxiously as her husband, Richard, and her now 6-year-old daughter, Gabriella, both of whom have been permanently separated from Nazanin since these events transpired in 2016. However, the day was marked by further despair as Nazanin has been summoned to court next week for the commencement of a second case against her, although the charges are unclear. This continuing legal persecution of Nazanin puts her in a state of constant uncertainty and family separation, which makes her recovery from the trauma of her experience impossible.
Crucially, therefore, Dr Heisler and Dr Hardi have recommended that, in order for Nazanin to recover, “she needs to be in a safe and non-threatening environment.” Such are not the conditions that Nazanin is currently experiencing in Iran, despite her recent release from house arrest, as she faces the looming threat of further imprisonment and repeated experiences of torture and ill-treatment. Should her stay in Iran be prolonged, the IFEG experts find that her physical and psychological conditions will become chronic and potentially deteriorate. Instead, the medico-legal report concludes, “Nazanin’s healing can be only provided in the UK in the presence of her family after reunification.” If Nazanin is granted this opportunity, however, she is resilient and faces a positive prognosis for recovery with the aid of appropriate psychiatric treatment, longitudinal psychotherapy and access to a primary care physician.
With the IFEG experts’ recommendations in mind, the IRCT calls upon the Iranian government to prevent further acts of torture and ill-treatment in Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case by allowing her return home to the United Kingdom. There, she will also have access to adequate support services in line with her right to full rehabilitation, which the Iranian government is obliged to ensure she receives. We similarly call upon the British government to take all measures within its power to facilitate Nazanin’s return to the UK as a British national. Should it fail to do so, Nazanin will continue to suffer from and potentially reexperience torture and ill-treatment.
Read the IRCT submission letter here