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I know ordeal Nazanin is going through – Iranians put gun to my head, pulled the trigger and laughed

WITH a rifle pressed to his temple, Barry Rosen was told by his Iranian captors he had ten seconds to admit he was a spy.

As the grim countdown began, the New Yorker wrestled with the dilemma of either being perceived as a traitor to his country or leaving his kids fatherless.

“On the count of five I relented,” 77-year-old Barry revealed. “I signed the false confession, distraught and ­completely ashamed.”

Listening to the heart-wrenching account is Richard Ratcliffe, whose wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has also been jailed and falsely accused of spying by the Iranian regime.

In a three-way transatlantic Zoom call, I listened as Barry offered solace to the younger man. An emotional Barry — held for 444 days following the 1979 Iranian ­revolution — said: “What they did to me, I can’t forget. I know it will hang around in Nazanin’s life and will permeate her relationship with Richard and their daughter Gabriella. Nazanin has gone through much worse than I did. Richard’s fight for her release is heroic.”

Richard is grateful for the emotional support he has received from Barry, revealing: “It’s just ­hearing someone say, ‘Listen, I understand what you’re going through’.

“That’s been very important for me. I’ve shared experiences with Barry and families of other current hostages rather like a self-help group.”

‘I was kept blindfolded and bound hand and foot’

It was November 4, 1979, when Barry became one of the 66 ­Americans captured by revolutionaries in what would become known as the Iran hostage crisis.

Working as the press attaché for the US Embassy in Tehran, Barry heard a mob at the gates chanting: “Death to America.”

The 200-strong horde, armed with guns and clubs and with photos of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini pinned to their chests, seized the ­Americans inside.

Over the following 14 months, Barry was subjected to mock executions.

He revealed: “I was awakened in my cell and the guards were dressed all in black. They stuck a gun to my head and pressed the trigger, but the chamber was empty.

“They laughed then rifled through my belongings, photos of my wife Barbara and my children Alexander and Ariana.

“They laughed then rifled through my belongings, photos of my wife Barbara and my children Alexander and Ariana.

Barry was in Tehran’s ­“disgusting” Evin Prison, where decades later Nazanin would also be held.

Reliving his captivity as Richard listened, he said: “I was constantly blindfolded, bound hand and foot and transported for hours with my hands numb from being tied up. I spent 20 minutes in the entire 444 days outside.

I dreamed about walking on grass and seeing trees.

“Nazanin has been through way too much. I’ve been through so much of what she’s going through.”

While Barry was facing ­torture, back home in the US, his wife Barbara met politicians and even the Pope to attempt to win his freedom.

It is a struggle that accountant ­Richard, from West Hampstead, North London, knows all too well.

On April 3, 2016, mum-of-one Nazanin was arrested at Imam ­Khomeini airport, accused of being a spy. She had been on a holiday visit after taking baby daughter Gabriella to see her parents in Iran.

In September that year she was jailed for five years following conviction on unspecified “national security related” offences. Last week a medical assessment of Nazanin revealed that she is a victim of torture, suffers major depression and PTSD and requires urgent ­psychiatric treatment.

A new mum, who at the time of her arrest was still breastfeeding, she was held for around eight and a half months in solitary confinement.

Nazanin, who met Richard through mutual friends after coming to study in London in 2007, was repeatedly threatened with being permanently separated from daughter Gabriella.

Deprived of sleep by bright lights and a blaring TV, she was told that Richard was a spy and that he had been unfaithful and left her. The mum went on hunger strike three times in protest at her treatment. In 2019, Gabriella, who had been staying with her grandparents in Tehran, returned to London to live with her father and start school.

Nazanin was released in March last year to live at her parents’ home on house arrest. Her sentence ended on March 7 this year and her ankle tag was removed — but she was ordered to stay in Tehran.

Now the Ratcliffes are awaiting judgment on further charges of spreading “propaganda against Iran” that Nazanin faced on Sunday.

Outside the Tehran hearing, Nazanin, 42, said: “I hope this is the end. All we can do is wait.”

But Richard, 46, is worried there might be another cruel twist.

The dad added: “We might be in a tug of war that could go our way and might go a different way.”

Iran has used Nazanin as a bargaining chip in an attempt to recoup £400million it says Britain owes it after a tank deal from the 1970s wasn’t completed. The UK states it cannot pay the debt due to sanctions. Richard says the British Government has been “negligent” in its dealings with Iran over his wife’s release.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described Sunday’s hearing as “unacceptable” and “unjustifiable”.

He added: “Nazanin must be allowed to return to her family in the UK without further delay.

“The Iranian government has deliberately put her through a cruel and inhumane ordeal.”

Barry, who has been helping ­Richard through his ordeal via Zoom calls, added: “When I was incarcerated my wife Barbara fought for me and went overseas and met with the Pope and world leaders.

“That was so important. For Richard, doing similar things will be important for him — at least psychologically — when Nazanin comes home. He’ll know and she’ll know he did everything possible to keep her alive.”

‘They will need help to work things out’

Barry also warned Richard that he and Nazanin’s family life will face pressures when they are finally reunited in Britain.

The Brooklyn native added: “They’ve lost over five years of love and compassion and seeing their child grow up together.

“There’s a sense of guilt that ­Nazanin has expressed and that I expressed in my letters to Barbara.

“I owe my children Ariana and Alexander the love that I couldn’t give them when I was a hostage. Richard and Nazanin are a ­relatively young couple.

They have a whole life left to work these things out but they will need help.
“If the British Government does not help them that’s another disgrace.”

Richard adds: “I think there is a journey ahead of us, Barry knows that better than I. Barry’s right about the guilt Nazanin feels for all those years that she hasn’t been there with Gabriella.

“She almost blames herself but, of course, it’s not her fault, but her daughter has suffered. It will take time for Gabriella to rebuild her relationship with her mum.”

Today Barry is Senior Adviser for the United Against Nuclear Iran, which aims to stop Iran fulfilling its ambition to obtain nuclear weapons.

He added: “The Iranian regime uses hostage-taking as one of its main assets in diplomacy. As long as it is not punished for any of this, it will keep doing it.”

As he awaits the Iranian court’s decision — which could come this weekend — Richard tries not to allow himself to dwell on Nazanin being back home in case hopes are dashed.

He said: “It doesn’t feel safe enough. I’m looking forward to getting back to the normal life we had before all of this happened.

“A month ago, Gabriella came up with a list of things she wants to do with her mum, like go swimming and go to a toy shop.

“In terms of getting healthy again, it’s like Barry said­­, cherishing the trees and the simple stuff.”

It is a healing process Barry knows all too well. He adds: “Richard is an amazing human being.

“He’s been going through hell but gets up every day and fights for Nazanin. That, for me, is heroic.”

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