Fears for British-Iranian hunger striker as protest reaches day 56

Richard Ratcliffe and Lord Polak visited a weakening Vahid Beheshti in Whitehall on Wednesday


A dozen former cabinet ministers have signed a letter to Rishi Sunak in support of British-Iranian Vahid Beheshti who has completed 56 days of a hunger strike outside the Foreign Office in an attempt to persuade the government to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The letter, which has been signed by 125 MPs and peers from each of the main parties, was handed in by Beheshti, his wife Mattie Heaven and Conservative peer Lord Polak after Beheshti, who now uses a wheelchair, was joined by some of the parliamentarians on Wednesday.

Although there had been reports that the IRGG was to be proscribed, it is understood that the Foreign Office opposes the move.

 Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat are believed to be strongly in favour of adding the IRGC to the UK’s list of terrorist organisations.  Last month, Tugendhat revealed that the British police and security services Tugendhat foiled 15 IRGC assassination plots against UK citizens in the past year, and that some of their targets were prominent Jews.

“I am getting physically weaker, and I’ve lost 15 per cent of my body weight,” Beheshti told the JC during the parliamentarians’ visit. “But internally I’m getting stronger, and I am certain that proscribing the IRGC will protect our freedom here.”

“Appeasing the hostage-taking Iranian regime hasn’t worked for the past 44 years, and it won’t work now. Our government needs to learn that the only language Iran understands is pressure.”

The letter to the Prime Minister says the IRGC has been “systematically destabilising the Middle East since the Islamic Revolution, killing thousands, and expanding the Iranian regime’s malign hegemonic ambitions. This threat is no longer thousands of miles away because the IRGC is now openly operating on our own shores.

“The Government’s decision to proscribe the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups were important steps in combatting the threat of extremism and terrorism, but the UK can ill afford to stop there...  Proscription of the IRGC has deep support across Parliament. MPs unanimously endorsed a motion earlier this year calling for proscription. Peers from all parties and none have also joined the efforts to end the IRGC’s ability to operate in the UK.”

Lord Polak told the JC: “I’m not sure where the blockage to proscription is, but I’m certain it will happen. It took a long time to proscribe Hizbollah, the IRGC’s wayward child, and now it’s time to go after the parent.”

Standing at her husband’s side, Conservative councillor Heaven said: “as a wife, I’m really concerned because I can see how far he has deteriorated physically. But the support he has getting from so many quarters including those who have signed this letter is giving him inner strength.”

Also present was  Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of the British-Iranian former detainee Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who went on hunger strike in exactly the same spot to put pressure on the government to get his wife home. She was freed last year, after six years detention.

He said: “It was quite triggering when I first came here to support Vahid a few weeks ago. It reminded me what it’s like to shake your fist at what looks like a blank wall. But the longer something like this goes on, the more stubborn you feel. Governments like to pretend they’re impervious, but I hope this making a difference.”

Stephen Crabb MP, chair of Conservative Friends of Israel, and Labour Friends of Israel chair Steve McCabe also came to show support.

“I’m very pleased we’ve assembled so many signatories and it shows the depth of support that exists for this man,” said Crabb. “I am in awe of his courage. It is vital we proscribe the IRGC which will make it easier to curb its activities both in Iran and abroad.”

“I think it’s time for the government to listen,” said McCabe. “We shouldn’t have to watch while this man risk his life. The government must act.”

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