The family of a British-Iranian man being held in Tehran on Friday accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of incompetence, as they pushed for talks to secure his release.
Anoosheh Ashoori, a 67-year-old retired engineer from south London, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his mother and jailed for 10 years on charges of spying for Israel.
The government has called his case a top priority but his family have not been able to secure a meeting with the prime minister despite requesting one more than a year ago.
“We hope to get some formal acknowledgment and recognition of my husband’s case... by Boris Johnson, who’s never once publicly acknowledged us for four years,” Ashoori’s wife Sherry Izadi told AFP.
Izadi, along with her daughter Elika and son Aryan, sat on three chairs outside Downing Street, with a fourth left empty to represent Johnson’s failure to meet them.
Aryan Ashoori suggested Johnson might be “scared” to get personally involved after a bungled intervention in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, another UK-Iranian national being held in Tehran, was used by Iran to justify her ongoing detention.
“He’s so incompetent that he’s scared that he will say something and make the case worse. I’m actually partially worried that could happen,” he said.
Daughter Elika said she was “not even sure that he’s aware” of the case, but Johnson later tweeted that “Anoosheh and the other British nationals unjustly imprisoned in Iran must be able to return to their families in the UK.”
Dual nationals from various countries have been detained in Iran in what campaigners and the British government say is hostage-taking aimed at pressuring the West.
A small group of protesters, including Amnesty interim CEO Sacha Deshmukh and Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe, supported the family’s call, carrying placards reading “free ANOOSHEH” and “Prime Minister why won’t you meet us?”
“Today marks four years since Anoosheh was snatched off the streets,” Deshmukh told AFP.
“I’m not really sure why the prime minister would be so reluctant to meet the family,” he added, as he called for Johnson to give Ashoori diplomatic protection.
Wife Sherry said that recent months had been “challenging” after Iranian authorities cut off her husband’s telephone privileges, but that she was able to speak to him on Thursday.
Daughter Elika recalled the most difficult moments she had faced over the last four years.
“Smaller things are worse than the big things, like if you go to my dad’s office and see his mug there that hasn’t been used, and you go to the back garden and his shed is just gathering dust and there’s things rusting,” she told AFP.