Free Nazanin: 89-year-old grandmother on hunger strike urges Boris Johnson to ‘pay debt now’

Margaret Owen, 89, went without food for almost six days in support of Richard Ratcliffe’s three-week hunger strike outside the Foreign Office.

An 89-year-old grandmother has completed a five-day hunger strike in support of the campaign to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from detention in Iran.

Margaret Owen, a human rights barrister from Hammersmith, went without food for almost six days in support of Richard Ratcliffe’s three-week hunger strike outside the Foreign Office.

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Ms Owen, who is the founder and president of the charity Widows for Peace through Democracy, told LondonWorld: “Nobody should praise me for doing five days, it was nothing.

“It was important for me that because he’s stopped his hunger strike it was no longer a story.

Richard Ratcliffe (R) and his daughter Gabriella pose with placards of Nazanin in Parliament Square to mark the 2,000th day of her detention in Iran on September 23 (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)

“We can’t let the spotlight go off on this. We’ve got to keep the pressure on.

“Boris is responsible - he’s torn that family apart.”

He is calling on the UK government to settle a historic £400m debt to Iran, which is acknowledged to be owed but is as yet unpaid.

Ms Owen ended her hunger strike on Sunday, November 21, due to health reasons, after not eating since Tuesday.

“I don’t know how he can dare to enjoy his Christmas if Nazanin is not back by then.

“There are so many issues that don’t have a solution. But this has a solution. Pay that debt now.”

The campaigner, who is meeting with Mr Ratcliffe and his MP Tulip Siddiq today, admitted: “I’m feeling a bit frail this morning.

“Last night Richard told me to stop because the last thing he wants to do is encourage people to risk their health.

“I thought I was going to go on for eight days but I can’t. I’m going very carefully with a smoothie.”

Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian held in Iran since 2016, on day 19 of his hunger strike. Credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

But she insisted she “didn’t feel ill or hungry” during the strike and said: “Everybody said to me ‘you’re old, you mustn’t do it, you’re in danger’.

“Older people eat less than younger people and I have a smaller appetite.

“I drank a lot of water and I didn’t have any pain. Today I’m feeling really wobbly but it will pass. I didn’t ask my doctor [before the strike] because I knew he’d say no.”

Ms Owen, who previously worked as an immigration and asylum lawyer and is a United Nations consultant on women’s issues, said hunger striking had a long and powerful history.

“In the end, hunger strikes are the only things that are left,” she said.

“At least we are in charge of our bodies when our protests have no effect.”

Mr Ratcliffe and Ms Owen’s hunger strike comes months after the Turkish lawyer Ebru Timtik died in prison in Turkey following a 238-day hunger strike, demanding a fair trial.

“Hunger strikers have died in Turkey,” Ms Owen said.

“One I knew very well, who was 41, a lawyer in prison, did 238 days and she died a few weeks ago. That’s all we have left in the end when everything else is closed to us.”

She urged the government to take action to bring Nazanin home, and said international sanctions against Iran did not apply, as the debt was incurred prior to their introduction.

“Boris was the one who said she was there to train journalists and he’s never apologised for that,” she said. “As Foreign Secretary he said we’ve got to pay the debt. He is responsible.

“He’s never once spoken to Richard and he will have his luxurious Christmas in Chequers and there she is. He’s torn that family apart.”

After attending the candlelit vigil where Keir Starmer showed his support for Mr Ratcliffe, who she said had “aged” and looked “so ill” when he left his camp, Ms Owen said she was inspired to take action herself to champion the cause.

“I visited him four times and went to the Friday night candlelit vigil,” she said.

“With my hunger strike I wanted it to go all over the UK.

“Any moment she will get the summons to go back to prison. That’s terrifying for her and for Richard and we worry so much not just about her physical health but her mental health.

“She knows what it’s been like, as she’s been in it before. I can’t sleep for worrying.

“My Iranian friends say there are thousands of people in the jails and executions happen every day. I always say if you can’t save six million you might be able to save one.”