A mum whose husband is languishing in a notorious Iranian jail has been unable to speak to him for weeks – as she issued a heartbreaking plea for the UK government to finally help free him.
Sherry Izadi is growing increasingly worried about husband Anoosheh Ashoori, who has been imprisoned since 2017, when he was arrested while visiting his elderly mother.
British-Iranian citizen Mr Ashoori, 67, is being held in the infamous Evin Prison in Tehran, where his family say he is living in horrific conditions surrounded by vermin, and has been barred from calling home.
Ms Izadi, who lives in South London, lashed out at Boris Johnson, who was Foreign Secretary when Mr Ashoori was seized, saying he has shown no sign of being interested in ending the family’s ordeal.
Her husband was given a 10 year sentence after being accused of spying, a charge his loved ones dismiss as laughable.
They believe he is being used as leverage by Iran to force the UK to pay back a decades-old £450 million debt.
The mum-of-two, 57, told The Mirror: “He’s in this predicament because he has a British passport, but we’ve never seen sufficient resolve on the part of the FCDO (the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) to do anything.
“To this day we haven’t once had any form of engagement from Boris Johnson. He’s done nothing whatsoever.”
She and the couple’s adult children, Elika and Aryan, are now calling on the government to give him diplomatic protection, as it did for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – who has also been held in Evin Prison..
This means the UK can seek protection on behalf of a national who it believes has been wronged by another state.
She said: “We’ve already missed four years, when you start growing old you begin to think ‘how much time do I have left?’
“These are the moments we should cherish, but we’ve already missed tens of birthdays, anniversaries, occasions like Christmas. We need to have our family whole again.”
Mr Ashoori, who is pictured laughing with his family in treasured family pictures – was arrested while visiting his mother, who is now 89.
He had been due to visit his mother-in-law in Tehran on the day he disappeared, sending the family into panic. It was only two days later that he was able to contact his mum to tell her he was in prison.
Ms Izadi said it is growing harder to believe that her husband will be released before the end of his 10 year sentence – which runs until 2027 – is up.
“If the British government do nothing this could go on another six years,” Ms Izadi said. “He’s a family man, he’s a very law abiding person, he doesn’t deserve this fate.”
For the last three weeks, Mr Ashoori has had a phone card – which allows him to speak to family overseas – taken away, and Ms Izadi is becoming increasingly worried about his welfare.
Before they would speak most days, which was crucial in keeping his spirits up, she said.
“It’s bad for him, because of Covid he can’t have any visitors,” Mrs Izadi said.
After his arrest by Iranian security forces, he was placed in solitary confinement for four months, during which time he made just one brief phone call to his family in London.
He was later moved to a cramped and dirty part of the prison, before being moved again two years ago.
“He is now in Ward 4, with 14 or 15 people in a room, and the hygiene conditions are dire,” she said.
“A month ago, just before our access was cut off, he told me that he was in the yard and there was a ‘cockroach attack’. He said the yard was carpeted with cockroaches, they were crawling all over them.”
He fell very ill earlier this year with Covid-like symptoms, but a prison medic refused to see him, instead passing him medicine from a distance without examining him, Ms Izadi said.
Throughout the ordeal, she has hoped the Iranian government would admit making a mistake and release Mr Ashoori.
“We hope for the best but we expect the worst, that’s been our motto for the last four years,” Ms Izadi said.
“There have been a number of occasions where we hoped that something would happen, but we find that if we allow ourselves to be optimistic it’s an even bigger disappointment.
“To say it’s difficult would be a massive understatement. It takes its toll on the family.
“There are periods where you really question the effectiveness of everything you’re doing. It’s very easy to give up but you can’t, there’s someone thousands of miles away relying on you and your effort.”
She is growing increasingly frustrated with the government’s failure to secure her husband’s release, along with that of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
“For the last four years we’ve seen a lot of talking and there’s been a lot of empty words that have never materialised,” she said.
“They tell us that they’re doing their best but we’re never privy to what negotiations are going on, if indeed they are having any. Really I’ve seen nothing.”
The family believe that their loved one is being held as a bargaining chip over a £450 million debt, dating back to the 1970s when the former Shah ordered thousands of tanks from Britain.
He was deposed before the deal was completed, and in 2009 a court in the Netherlands ruled that the UK had to repay the outstanding debt.
The money has been kept in a trust for nearly two decades, but the UK government has blamed sanctions for not paying up.
“They want their debt back from the British government,” Ms Izadi said. “I believe there’s no other credible motive. I think reclaiming this money has become a matter of prestige.”
An FCDO spokesman said: “We strongly urge Iran to reunite Mr Ashoori with his family. Our Embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access. We are in close contact with his family and continue to support them.
“We remain committed to securing the immediate and permanent release of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals in Iran and regularly raise our serious concerns with the Iranian Government.”
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “Anoosheh’s predicament is extremely serious. We need the UK government to really crank up their work on behalf of Anoosheh.
“UK officials need to reassure the family that they’re working non-stop to ensure that Anoosheh is permanently released and that his safe passage back to the UK is in sight.
“As we’ve seen with the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the UK hasn’t done as much as it should have done on behalf of its nationals who are being mistreated in Iran. It’s time that this distressing pattern was reversed.”