Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has recalled watching Sir Andy Murray win Wimbledon from solitary confinement in her Tehran prison cell during an emotional meeting with the British tennis star.
The 44-year-old British-Iranian dual national recalled how for the first five months of her confinement in Evin prison she was not allowed any books or newspapers.
But there was a TV set and "at some point they decided to let me use the TV but it only had two channels".
“One of them was rubbish Iranian-made soap opera all the time, which was very low quality," she told Sir Andy. "The other one was a sports channel, which they thought this was probably a way to just give them something but not quite something.
“Then I put it on, the first thing that was on was Wimbledon that day and that year, 2016; they had no idea what they had given me because I was always a big fan of you but also there I was in solitary confinement watching the match you actually won in the end.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who lives in north London, said Sir Andy’s win left her feeling “ecstatic” and she had hoped shortly afterwards to email him to express how proud she was and explain where she watched it, adding she was denied her hope of watching him the following year due to her detention.
The pair were in conversation at the Lawn Tennis Association in Roehampton for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained for six years in Iran, and was finally released in March 2022 after the UK agreed to settle a historic £400 million debt dating back to the 1970s.
Sir Andy Murray’s voice cracked with emotion and he had to pause as he responded to the experiences she went through.
“That makes me quite emotional hearing you speaking about that so I appreciate you telling that to me," he said.
Sir Andy said Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s story of watching him win Wimbledon in 2016 from her prison cell was “by far the strangest, most incredible story I’ve been told” about someone viewing him play tennis.
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe recalled playing an Iranian version of Charades when held in a hospital ward, explaining on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My friends knew that on my list there had to be Andy Murray.
“The people who were with me in that period they knew you even though they’d probably never heard your name before, they knew who you were, which game you won and that was quite something for me – it felt like a connection, it felt like escape, I was close to home all of a sudden and that was through sport, and through something that probably the Iranian government never thought that I would have that way of finding my way and connection to the life I had outside prison.”
Sir Andy later asked Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe for more information about her “incredible” story, and had to pause as he said: “I find myself getting quite emotional that someone could be treated in that way and just, sorry, yeah, I’d be interested to hear it from your side, how you feel about it all.
“You seem absolutely fine now but I’m thinking if I was in that situation or someone that I knew was in that situation I’d feel angry about that but you seem well.”
Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin's husband, endured a near six year nightmare of his own as he fought tirelessly to bring his wife back to Britain.
Petitions, hunger strikes, vigils, protest marches and direct appeals to the UK and Iranian governments helped ensure Nazanin's name rarely slipped from the headlines.
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