Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight will only worsen if the Iranian government believes the world does not care about its political prisoners, a human rights expert has said.

The British-Iranian charity worker was arrested in April 2016 and sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, which she vehemently denies.

Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human rights lawyer, former judge and human rights activist, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

She has worked on Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, and had several meetings with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe.

Dr Ebadi told PA news agency: “What is important is that Nazanin is innocent. And to all intents and purposes she’s been taken hostage by the Iranian government.

“And it’s very painful to see that an innocent person is being kept hostage by a government of the country.”

She added that the British Government needed to take the case even more seriously, and pay attention to the human rights violations in Iran more generally.

Asked why the situation was not improving, Dr Ebadi said: “Because every Western country is actually thinking about their own national security and their interests.

“And that is why all they paid attention to was the nuclear issue.

“And they forget and they neglect the fact that Iranian people’s rights are being violated by this government.”

Speaking at the Aurora Forum in Yerevan, Armenia, where she sits on the selection committee for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, Dr Ebadi said the objective is to torment prisoners to achieve what goals the Iranian government has.

Dr Ebadi told PA: “If the Iranian government realises that the world does not care for the plight of these political prisoners, naturally, these prisoners are not going to have a good future.

“And in such a situation naturally the plight of Nazanin is not going to change, it will get worse.”

Earlier in October Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter, Gabriella, returned to London, having spent three years with her grandparents in Tehran, where she would also visit her mother in prison.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella
Zaghari-Ratcliffe with her daughter Gabriella (The Free Nazanin campaign)

The five-year-old’s parents made the painful decision to bring her back from Iran so she can start school. Dr Ebadi said this would inevitably have an impact on Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s mental health.

She explained: “She used to be allowed to meet with her daughter once every fortnight.

“And now she’s been deprived of that, so obviously that is going to take its toll and it’s affected her psychologically.”

Dr Ebadi added that the high-profile nature of the case had been beneficial for Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and had it not been for the international outcry she would have received a longer sentence.

An FCO spokesperson said: “The Government remains extremely concerned about the welfare of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We are in regular contact with her family and our Embassy in Tehran continues to request consular access.

“The UK has been clear that Iran must start respecting human rights and stop detaining dual nationals. We brought the international community together at a UK-hosted event at the UN General Assembly last month, to shine a spotlight on Iran’s human rights abuses.”