One year ago, today, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was just a hassled mum trying to get to the airport with a toddler. It was the end of a two week trip to Tehran to visit her parents for Nowruz (Persian New Year). However, instead of returning to her normal life back here in West Hampstead, she was arrested at the airport by the Revolutionary Guard, had her passport seized and has spent the past year in prison separated from Gabriella, her daughter in Tehran and Richard, her husband in London.
After she was detained at the airport she was held in a prison in Kerman province, 1000 miles south of Tehran, including at least 46 days in solitary confinement. On 14 August she faced a secret trial and was convicted of being “one of the chief members of networks of adversary institutions, who — with the direction and support of foreign media and espionage services — has committed her criminal acts over the past few years”. She was sentenced for five years in prison and transferred to Tehran’s Evin jail. She appealed, but her sentence was confirmed in January.
At the time of her appeal the Kerman branch of the Revolutionary guard apparently added two extra charges; that her husband was spy (he isn’t, he is an accountant) and that she acted as head of recruitment for the BBC Farsi service. In fact she worked as a project assistant for BBC Media Action. She now works for the charitable arm of the Thompson-Reuters Foundation, which doesn’t operate in Iran (good interview with Monique Ville, the head on of the Thompson-Reuters Foundation on Radio 4 Today programme – link below).
To mark one year since the arrest, Richard, family and supporters organised an event in Fortune Green, her local park. On a beautiful Spring day. As well as marking one year imprisonment, this weekend had special resonance in Iran. Saturday was the 12th day after Nowruz when prisoners can have their sentences commuted. One prisoner was released on bail on Saturday, but sadly not Nazanin.
The event involved tying ribbons round a tree on the Green with cards attached. On each card was the answer to the question – what would you do if you had one extra day of freedom? Some of the cards were read out; from Nazanin herself, from the families of other prisoners, from former prisoners, from family and others. It was very moving. You can’t miss the tree as it is festooned with ribbons and cards, which will stay up until Easter.
Nazanin’s wish reads “My fondest dream has always been to arrive at our home. You ask me if I want to have a cup of tea, then make me one. I just sit back and watch you two play. This is the image I had most when in solitary confinement. How I wish I could watch you both dance in the middle of our sitting room to the Michael Jackson music – like when Gabriella was only tiny.”
One local, Maria Feeney, spoke of how she as been moved to start a ‘bale of peace’, some cloth she was given to her by the Village Haberdashery, with the idea that she will place it in local businesses for people to write or sew on “to raise our voices and bring the story back”. It is a apt artistic project as Nazinin loved finding fabrics for her daughter Gabriella. Expect to see it around West Hampstead, and when finished she hopes to exhibit it in Tehran.
After the readings some of the younger supporters went off with Richard to help the Friends of Fortune Green plant some day lillies for Nazanin, ready for her and Gabriella’s return. The event ended with Father Jonathan from Emmanuel Church, who came up after the Sunday service, to add a few words.
The event garnered good press coverage, it was on BBC London news last night, as well as Sky news and on the Radio 4 Today programme (scroll to 2:36). Richard also appeared this morning on Good Morning Britain and the Victoria Derbyshire show. It appeared in the Guardian, the Times, the Telegraph and is in the solidly supportively Ham & High this week. Watch out also for something on CNN, as chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, fellow British-Iranian, is doing a story on it.
When asked how he felt it went, Richard replied “I was really touched by the support. The longer we go on campaigning the more difficult it is to make it real, but what could be more real than being in our local park, where Nazanin came with Gabriella. It is what she wants to come back to”.
Tulip as been active in her support of the cause, joining Richard last year in handing in a 50,000 signature petition to Downing Street. She and the family have been in contact with junior Foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, but so far Boris Johnson has refused to meet them. The Telegraph reported Amnesty International was criticising Boris for lack of action on the case.
If you haven’t already done so, you can sign the petition – it is just shy of 900,000 signatures. This is also a good way to follow the campaign as Richard posts updates there, or for the twitterate among you, follow the campaign @freenazanin.