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Stifling heat, no natural light and hole for a toilet: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe reveals jail hell

Stifling heat, no natural light and a hole for a toilet: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe reveals her Iranian jail hell in a forthcoming book

  • The aid worker spoke of the unbearable pain of separation from her daughter
  • She said she suffered panic attacks, nausea, starvation and constant crying
  • She was arrested at Tehran airport in 2016 and separated from her family 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has described her detention in Iran as a hell of solitary confinement and intense interrogations almost daily.

The British-Iranian mother said her cell had no natural light and just a putrid hole in the floor for a toilet.

The aid worker spoke of the unbearable pain of separation from her daughter Gabriella, in her first detailed account of her initial ordeal in Kerman Central Prison.

 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has described her detention in Iran as a hell of solitary confinement and intense interrogations almost daily

Speaking to Iranian human rights activist Narges Mohammadi – a fellow former detainee – for a forthcoming book, Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe told how she suffered frequent panic attacks, nausea, starvation and constant crying until she fainted.

She was arrested at Tehran airport in 2016 and separated from her then 22-month-old daughter, before being put into the prison’s sole quarantine cell for 40 days – in which time she saw Gabriella just once.

Describing her cell, she said: ‘The room had a heavy iron door with a large iron lock and a hatch.

‘Inside the cell was a half-wall with a squat toilet on the floor behind it. There was no natural light, but a powerful light bulb that never went out.’

She was forced to sleep on a dirty blanket on the cold stone floor and was not allowed to wash herself.

She only knew it was day by the light coming in from the ventilation fan, and had to work out the time by the sound of the call to prayer and the chirping of sparrows.

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said conditions deteriorated further when the ‘stifling’ heat of summer arrived and she found it hard to breathe in the ‘muggy’ air. ‘The cell toilet smelled so horrible that guards covered their noses when they came to distribute food,’ she added.

During her first week in detention, she was interrogated daily. The following week, it was four times; then three.

The British-Iranian mother said her cell had no natural light and just a putrid hole in the floor for a toilet

The British-Iranian mother said her cell had no natural light and just a putrid hole in the floor for a toilet

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe said her captors tried to get her to confess to criminal activity: ‘The interrogators threatened that I would receive a heavy sentence unless I confessed to espionage.

‘They said that I did not know my husband and that he was a spy and that he had lied about where he worked. There were days when they wanted me to say that my husband was a spy and that I worked for spy organisations, but I refused.’

The relentless questioning even led her to doubt her memory. ‘They said they had top-secret evidence that I worked for the [British] Parliament and against Iran,’ she said.

‘I knew that was not the case, but they repeated it so much that I doubted myself when I returned to the cell.’

The agony of being apart from her daughter – to whom she refers by her Farsi name Gisou – was acute after their sole meeting.

‘After the meeting I felt awful. Gisou had changed. She had teethed. She didn’t recognise me. I didn’t recognise her either when I first saw her,’ she said.

She described how every day of detention was torment: ‘I cried. I shouted. I read the Koran a lot. I talked to God, shouted and fainted.’

The aid worker added: ‘The solitary cell gave me panic attacks. I’m claustrophobic, and being confined and alone was severe torture.’

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