A British woman has been sentenced to 20 years in an Iranian prison for posting a comment on Facebook that allegedly criticised the country’s leadership.
Roya Saberi Negad Nobakht, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, was seized by Iranian authorities while visiting friends in the south-western city of Shiraz last October.
The 47-year-old housewife has been accused of gathering crowds, putting national security at risk, and of insulting Islam after she reportedly made a comment on her Facebook page that criticised former Iranian supreme leader Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the 1979 Iranian Revolution that established an Islamic republic.
Ms Nobakht, who is a part-time student at Stockport College, has dual British-Iranian nationality and has been living in England with her British husband for more than six years.
A source close to the family said: “Roya is devastated. She is not doing well. She is just a housewife and is not an activist. She has said she would rather die than be there for 20 years. She has been tortured and the conditions at the prison are terrible. She is under a lot of pressure. They have taken confession under duress that she has said something against the Iranian republic.”
Ms Nobakht had taken a three-week holiday to Iran last year to visit friends and family, but when her husband Daryoush Taghipoor, also 47, went to meet her at Manchester airport arrivals lounge on the day she was due back she did not appear.
He then spent two months in Iran searching mortuaries, hospitals and police stations, fearing the worst, before he finally learnt what had happened to her.
The source said: “She had flew into Shiraz airport to visit a friend when she was arrested. They took her passport and her computer and she was taken to Evin prison where she has been ever since. She told them she was a student but they didn’t believe her.
“When her husband went to the airport to meet her and she didn’t arrive he called friends and family in Iran but nobody knew where she was. He decided to go to Iran to search for her and it took two months.
“He visited mortuaries and hospitals and police stations and eventually he was told she was in prison for not being respectful of Iran. He was allowed to visit her for 10 minutes and has not seen her since. They can speak on the phone but are not able to say much.”
Mr Taghipoor returned to the UK and has not dared go back to Iran for fear of being arrested himself.
Negotiations between the UK and Iranian governments are complicated as the British Embassy in Tehran closed following the 2011 attack by Iranian protesters.
While a ‘charges d’affaires’ conducts relations between the two countries from the UK, it is understood that the UK government is mediating via the Swedish embassy to help release Ms Nobakht.
Andrew Stunell, MP for Hazel Grove, has been helping put pressure on the Foreign Office. He said: “It’s complicated as we don’t have diplomatic representation there. The Swedes are our voice. We have sent a letter asking for the Iranian authorities to show a bit of common sense.
“Unfortunately the Iranian justice system is pretty incomprehensible to us in the Western world. What we regard as fundamental human rights are regarded as crimes and Roya is in the midst of it.
“It’s absolutely preposterous. The Iranians have pounced on her and charged her with offences which would be laughed out of court here but they have gone on to impose an outrageously large sentence.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are aware that a British national has received a custodial sentence in Iran. We are seeking to establish the full facts and are following up the case with the Iranian authorities.”
Ms Nobakht is among eight people who were jailed in Iran this week on charges including blasphemy and insulting the country’s leadership on Facebook.