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Jailed British-Iranian woman 'suicidal' in Iranian prison

A fellow inmate with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe says her 'hair was falling out' as she faced brutal treatment in Iranian custody
An undated handout image released by the Free Nazanin campaign in London on June 10, 2016 shows Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (AFP)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the imprisoned British-Iranian woman at the heart of a diplomatic crisis involving UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, was left suicidal following her treatment at the hands of the Islamic Republic, according to newly released interviews.

Former inmates of the prison complex where Zaghari-Ratcliffe is being held on charges of being a foreign spy described to the Times newspaper in London the ordeal she faced as she suffered brutal interrogation from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) and eight months in solitary confinement.

"Nazanin was very upset," said Homa Hoodfar, a Canadian-American who in June spent two days in jail with Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

"Her interrogators had promised if she signed these papers she would be able to get out and be with her baby. Desperate, she went ahead and signed, but they wouldn’t let her out."

Hoodfar said that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had cried uncontrollably about being seperated from her two-year old daughter Gabriella.

We've all become accustomed to Boris Johnson's foot-in-mouth syndrome, but as foreign secretary his words matter

- Wes Streeting, Labour MP

"Her hair was falling out, huge clumps of it covered our blankets," she said.

"She was crying about her daughter, who was going to celebrate her second birthday. She just talked about her little girl and cried."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was arrested while on holiday in Iran last April, worked in London for the Thompson Reuters Foundation.

Although she has no involvement in the journalistic wing of the organisation, Foreign Secretary Johnson mistakenly told a meeting of the UK parliament's foreign affairs select committee that she had been teaching journalism in Iran.

This mistake has led to Zaghari-Ratcliffe facing potentially an extra five years in prison on accusations of "propaganda against the regime" and has provoked numerous calls for Johnson to be sacked.

Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said the Iranians had taken Johnson's error at face value.

"There is a way in which the foreign secretary is responsible which he was not two weeks ago," he said, according to the Times.

"He was cited in Iranian media coverage of Nazanin. They are taking his words."

Months in solitary

Following her arrest, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was first held for a month in isolation in Kerman province, in the south of Iran. The only people permitted to see her were interrogators.

She was then kept for a further seven months in isolation in Evin prison, in a cell where the light was never turned off.

On Friday, British diplomats reportedly increased their efforts to raise support for Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

According to the Evening Standard in London, Ambassador Nicholas Hopton said the UK had "no doubt" that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been holiday on when she was arrested.

Although she is being kept in better conditions now, the Johnson incident has her facing a new trial on new charges.

Opposition politicians said Johnson's position was untenable.

"We've all become accustomed to Boris Johnson's foot-in-mouth syndrome, but as foreign secretary his words matter," said Labour MP Wes Streeting, speaking to the UK's Sun newspaper.

"This isn't his first gaffe in recent months, but it looks as though his careless attitude will result in a longer prison sentence for an innocent British national.

"This is intolerable. He should be sacked."

Zaghari-Ratcliffe used to work in London for the BBC, which Iran says is seeking to topple the Islamic theocracy.

Iran refuses to recognise dual nationals and denies them access to consular assistance.