The UK-based #FreeNazanin campaign gathered outside Downing Street on December 19 to call for British Foreign Mininster Boris Johnson to take immediate and direct action to release Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained in Iran since early April 2016.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe and family, members of the Belsize community choir conducted by opera singer Chelsea Hart, and dozens of supporters from the Ratcliffes’ neighborhood and across the capital, as well as Amnesty International activists, took part in the #carolsforNazanin event outside Downing Street, where both the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer have their official residence. Carolers carried candles and displayed #FreeNazanin and other posters, many of them calling for Foreign Minister Johnson to “buck up” and help secure the charity worker and mother’s release.
Also at the event was Iranian-Canadian academic Homa Hoodfar, who was detained in Iran in June and held in Evin Prison until her release on September 26. “The second week I was there, I shared a cell with Nazanin for one night,” she told IranWire. “But they separated us once they knew that there were two political prisoners in the same cell. I did see her on other occasions, especially when they were transporting us to court. We were in the same car, although we were not allowed to talk.”
Hoodfar expressed anger and dismay at the continued incarceration of Nazanin, a charity worker — as well as at the hypocrisy of Iranian authorities. “For a state that claims that family is so important, and that family morality is so important, to treat a young mother in this way is really sad and immoral,” she said.
Hoodfar was released followed a meeting between Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in New York on September 21. Both were in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Hoodfar said she hoped the UK’s foreign minister and other British officials would “apply all the pressure” they could to secure her release.
“The charges against Nazanin are made-up,” Hoodfar said. “And unfortunately, the legal system in Iran is not really following a lot of their own laws -- and not international law. A lot of these charges are about national security, and the charges are very elastic. They define it however they want. And at this stage, the Intelligence Service of the Revolutionary Guards and the court are one and the same. There's no difference. They talk about ‘we,’ rather than talking as if the court is independent.”
Hoodfar, an anthropologist at Canada’s Concordia University, said Nazanin was being used as a weapon in an on going domestic political battle in Iran. “They're using a dual national as a pawn in a power struggle between the elected bodies and non-elected bodies of the state.” Iran is currently holding other dual nationals, including Iranian-American father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi and Iranian-Briton Kamal Foroughi. US resident and Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka is also being held on charges of spying.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe traveled with her daughter Gabriella to Iran to visit family in Tehran in early spring 2016. On April 3, Revolutionary Guards arrested Nazanin, and confiscated Gabriella’s passport.
The #FreeNazanin campaign posted a photo of Gabriella watching and listening to the December 19 carols via video from Tehran, where she remains with her grandparents.
Homa Hoodfar described seeing Zaghari-Ratcliffe around the time of Gabriella’s second birthday.”It's very sad for a mother not to be there for her birthday, and she's so young. She was very moved and sad that she couldn't be with her, and with her husband. She talked about how she planned to come back and maybe have another baby.”
Hoodfar also said prison conditions were harsh, and that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been kept in a detention center rather than an official prison. “She was locked away in a small cell. You don't have very much freedom of movement [in the center]; you can't get a drink of water when you want to; there are no opportunities for exercise.”
Richard Ratcliffe did not go public about Nazanin’s arrest initially in the hopes that officials would be able to facilitate an early arrest. But after a month, he began speaking to the media, and launched the Free Nazanin petition and campaign. During his last blog post for the campaing, he wrote about Nazanin’s desolation, and her struggle trying to decide whether to accept the Revolutionary Guards’ offer to let Gabriella stay with her three days a week — in exchange for her signing a legal waiver absolving her right to access her child. He also wrote that Nazanin had been on hunger strike, and had mentioned suicide.
In a statement about December 19’s carol event, Richard said: “Nazanin is one of the bravest people I know but she’s at breaking point. She’s been separated from me and our daughter – completely illegally. For no reason and with no charge. She’s been on hunger strike and can barely walk. We are an ordinary family, like millions of others. And it’s just unimaginable that my wife is in prison, and won’t be with either me, or her own child at Christmas.”