British mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is suicidal after three years behind bars in Iran, her fearful husband has revealed.

Richard Ratcliffe admitted Nazanin regularly talks of feeling she wants to end her life in fraught phone calls from Tehran, where she is being held on false charges of spying.

He says the only way he has been able to reason with her is to support her wish to go on hunger strike – in return for her promise not to make an attempt on her life.

He said: “We have a pact, I insist she is allowed to go on hunger strike, but she is not allowed to attempt suicide. That’s the way I cope with it.

“I fully accept it’s her right if we on the outside can’t help get her out, it’s her right to do something – but it needs to be something we can react to, not something where it’s all too late.”

Although he conceded: “There would be a way if she was determined.”

Richard explained 40-year-old Nazanin’s traumatised state spiralled on Saturday, after Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, retracted a surprise offer of a prisoner swap he made during a speech in New York.

He had suggested he had the power to authorise her release in return for the freeing of an Iranian woman held in Australia, raising Nazanin’s hopes.

The “outrageous game playing” triggered a panic attack so severe she was rushed to see a psychiatrist who insisted she needed immediate hospitalisation.

Richard described: “They were horrified at how advanced her depression had got. She had a real meltdown. A panic attack, crying a lot. She was clearly very traumatised, and it was very traumatic for all the prisoners and guards on duty.

“The meltdown is a consequence of all those things that happened last week.

“She goes angry and dark, and just cries uncontrollably.

“She was talking to the psychiatrist about plans for a hunger strike and confessing to suicidal feelings. And she has confessed that to us these past couple of months.

“It is clear the psychiatrist was really shocked by how much she had deteriorated. It’s the first time they have said ‘You must be in hospital immediately’.”

When Richard spoke to her on Sunday by phone “she was traumatised,” he said. “She kept saying ‘You don’t understand’ which of course, I don’t. It was all tears and anger.”

Charity worker Nazanin, who has dual British-Iranian citizenship, was visiting her parents on holiday with the couple’s baby daughter, Gabriella, when she was arrested at Tehran airport in April 2016 and sentenced to five years.

Iranian prosecutors have told her her imprisonment is connected to the repayment of a debt owed by Britain to Iran for a cancelled arms deal in the 1970s, but neither country has confirmed this.

Gabriella, now four, has since lived with her grandparents in Tehran, while Richard has been refused a visa to visit. He can talk to Nazanin only by phone, and Gabriella, who now speaks Farsi, through a translator via Skype.

The couple has long discussed the possibility of bringing Gabriella back to England to start school after her fifth birthday next month.

Richard has tentatively spoken to governors at a couple of primary schools close to his home in north London about this.

But Nazanin is distraught at the idea of missing her daughter’s weekly visits.

Richard believes it is crunch time for the British and Iranian governments to act to secure her freedom before she takes drastic action.

He said: “I worry about what will happen in June. I don’t think the Iranian government has got long.

“This needs to be solved by Gabriella’s birthday. Otherwise she will take matters into her own hands.”

The Foreign Office recently granted Nazanin rare Diplomatic Protection, after her last hunger strike in February.

Initially, she was given tests and MRI scans for pains in her neck and arms, and lumps in her breasts, denied for months.

But although the Iranian government-run Health Commission suggested she was too ill to be in prison, there has been no hint yet of a release on health grounds.

On Monday, in the wake of her panic attack, she was taken back to the prison clinic with pain in her neck and back, causing numbness to her legs which restricted her walking.

But she has not been hospitalised.

“We want Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to push for Nazanin’s release as soon as possible on medical grounds, in the wake of this stupid stunt last week,” Richard said.

“This is a chance for the government to act and sort it, and hopefully they will before she decides to.”

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