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Renewed Anxiety as Nazanin’s Trial Postponed

September 13, 2020
Natasha Schmidt
12 min read
Renewed Anxiety as Nazanin’s Trial Postponed

The trial of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been postponed, sparking fresh uncertainty and unease. “I would have rather it happened today,” she told her husband Richard Ratcliffe over the phone,. “I do not sleep at all while the case is hanging over me. This morning I wanted to get it over with – to know where I stand now rather than continue with this whole stupid game.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband and the Free Nazanin campaign have urged the United Kingdom to continue to demand presence at any trial, and to be provided with an explanation about the new case. If no information is forthcoming, they say, the British government should request the case is closed. 

Ratcliffe also said the British embassy should request a formal visit with Nazanin as part of its diplomatic protection of her. 

On Tuesday, September 8, Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been held in Iran against her will since April 2016, was informed that she was facing a new set of charges and a new trial against her was due to begin on Sunday, September 13. On September 12, her lawyer assessed the new file he was given, which he said contained no new material and backed up his and the family’s assumption that old charges were being brought against her. He told Nazanin that he believed he could present a good defence against the charges. 

On the morning of September 13, Nazanin waited for agents to collect her, as the fact that she has an ankle tag means she requires an escort if going more than 300 meters away from her parents’ house. Agents did not arrive and when her lawyer arrived at the court he was told no trial would be taking place. After he informed Nazanin, she phoned the prosecutor’s office, who told her she would be escorted to the office for a “discussion” over the course of the next few days. 

According to her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and the Free Nazanin campaign, the postponement could have been linked to the fact that the British embassy had requested attendance at the trial. Nazanin’s family and the campaign had urged the UK Foreign Office to request attendance as part of its diplomatic protection of her, which was granted in 2019, and which means any illegal behavior against Zaghari-Ratcliffe constitutes an act of illegality against the UK as a state. 

The new trial, followed by the postponement, has left Nazanin feeling traumatized.

 

 

Read the full statement from the Free Nazanin campaign below: 

Contrary to the instructions Nazanin and her lawyer received from Judge Salavati on Tuesday, Nazanin was not taken to the Revolutionary Court today. The second court case against her was postponed. Neither Nazanin nor her lawyer were given any explanation as to why, or as to when it might be rescheduled.

It is too early to say what the postponement means, except that this remains a game of cat and mouse between governments, with us living life as a piece of bait. 

For Nazanin, the uncertainty remains deeply traumatic, as we await the next move. As we do so, the importance of the government’s diplomatic protection grows.

 

Today’s Court Case Postponed 

We previously stated that Nazanin was due in court today (Sunday 13 September). Earlier this week she and her lawyer had been both summoned to attend Revolutionary Court 15 by Judge Salavati. She was expecting to be tried on charges of ‘spreading propaganda against the regime.’

On Tuesday, Nazanin’s lawyer was given access to the ‘new’ file against her, whilst at the Court, and yesterday he spent a number of hours until late evening going through the defence with her. He had told her that there was very little substance in any of the accusations, and reassured her he could make a strong defence. 

This morning Nazanin was due to be collected by the Revolutionary Guards to be taken to court. Given she has an ankle tag on, she needs to be escorted by the authorities anywhere outside a 300m range. 

However the guards did not show up as expected. This is despite her previously being called by the Judiciary on Friday night to confirm that she was still at her parents’ home.  

This morning Nazanin’s lawyer went to Revolutionary Court 15 early this morning as appointed. When he got there, he was told by the Court Office that there would be no hearing today. He had been given no indication that the trial would not be happening until this point.

Nazanin asked him on the phone outside the court what reason he had been given as to why the trial had been postponed. He would only reiterate on an open line that it is not happening today. He could not then be reached for much of the remainder of the day. 

Subsequently, Nazanin spoke on the phone to Prosecutors Office, her contact point in the Judiciary, to ask what was going on? She was told today that they will bring her in (i.e. guards will escort her to the Prosecutors Office) in the next couple of days for a discussion on her case. 

She said that she wanted to understand what was happening with the latest trial, and why it had been suddenly started and then a few days later postponed. She also wanted to discuss by what law the Judiciary are still blocking her clemency which was due 6 months ago. And she also wanted them to explain why they had not extended her ankle tag range, or removed it. If they can extend it to drag me into court when it suits them, why can they not extend it when I need to get medical tests? She was told they would discuss with her when she comes to the Office.

Following court, Nazanin’s lawyer also went on to the Prosecutors Office to discuss developments. He did not provide further updates following this conversation, noting simply that not much was told.

We have not been given a rescheduled date for the court hearing.

 

Implications of Today’s Postponement

It is perhaps early to understand why today’s sudden postponement happened, or what it means.

In our view it likely is a response to the efforts by the British Embassy to attend today’s planned court hearing. The Foreign Office had been requesting access to attend Nazanin’s trial. The Iranian authorities were clearly reluctant to say yes, though likely mindful of the legal consequences of saying no in the context of diplomatic protection having been invoked.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry had been saying initially in response to the request, that it would only likely be a short trial (of course – since there is nothing to try her for, we refuted), and then later in the week had suggested that perhaps that Nazanin herself would even not be required to attend (which got us worrying about an in absentia trial, which does happen occasionally in the Revolutionary Court).

In the end the trial did not happen – following the progression of this push for access. So we are appreciative of the Embassy’s efforts to stand very clearly next to her. 

Our ask now is that the Foreign Office pushes for an official explanation from Iran as to what is going on – why a case has been opened against her anyway, and if nothing is provided, demanding that it be explicitly closed. 

Given all that is going on, we do still think it is important they continue this push for access, and formally demands to visit Nazanin at home before the case again rears its ugly head.

 

Game Playing

While today’s trial postponement is legally a good thing, politically it is much more ambiguous. A postponement is not the same as a cancellation. There is no indication that the second case has been cancelled, just that it will linger more slowly and uncertainly over Nazanin’s head. If they had wanted to cancel it, they would have done so three years back.

Iran’s Revolutionary Court system prizes itself on its discretionary opaqueness, and to keep its victims unable to know what comes next, except that it is not over until the authorities say it is. An open case provides some kind of internal fig leaf for continuing to hold Nazanin, even if they were to implement clemency, even if her lawyer continues to fight.

The logic of the past week’s events also signals with clarity a reminder of the IRGC’s rationale for holding Nazanin as collateral for the UK’s debt. 

Continuing the line of communications from different Iranian authorities linking Nazanin to the debt, and perhaps jostling internally for position, this week Iran’s Defence Ministry put out a public statement on the UK’s debt to it, the first time in many years. The latest in a number of statements. The statement made clear their imminent expectations for a resolution: 

“London is expected to take practical and immediate steps to make up for the past so that the dissatisfaction and protest of the Iranian government and people towards Britain not be continued.”

It subsequently detailed these steps. The statement formally denied any link to those taken prisoner, but also put the two things together, continuing the MFA’s approach of denial and juxtaposition.

See: https://en.mehrnews.com/news/163350/MoD-calls-on-UK-to-take-practical-actions-to-pay-40-year-debt

Our view is that the new court case was intended to send a signal to the UK that it can be run should they need to hold Nazanin for a long time to come. They are signalling that they have mechanisms to hold Nazanin beyond the Spring, if the UK also wants to try to wait them out. 

Today’s postponement is not inherently positive. It does not signal evidence of a corner turned, simply that they do not need to fully deploy these mechanisms now. 

For the rest of us, the new court case simply signals they can keep Nazanin for as long as they need to. It is meant to be capricious, whenever opened or closed. This is hostage taking in legal clothes. 

This is why we have asked the Foreign Office to formally protest against the illegality of the status quo – and to protest through a Note Verbale and more that it is not just the new case which is illegal and should be dropped, but that it is illegal under Iranian law to be holding Nazanin still under the old one. We have asked the UK to assert that legally, since clemency, she should have been home in March. That point becomes all the more important with this new round of gameplaying.

Not least because the solution lies not with the lawyers, but with the politicians and their decision making. 

 

Mental Impact

Today’s events were not expected, but they were also not unexpected – we have learned these past four years that anything can happen. Judicial moves are invariably manipulative – putting pressure on Nazanin to manipulate her suffering and revel in their power, manipulating the anguish in the media. Nazanin’s imprisonment remains a game of cat and mouse.

For all of us, but especially Nazanin, this is hard. In cat and mouse games between governments, it is hard to be the bait of cheese. Even if living it one day at a time.

There is a permanent anxiety that comes with the ups and downs of being perpetually toyed with, stuck in a seemingly endless game.

Nazanin reported today that she was really stressed, with a permanent headache, all the time angry and tired. Since Tuesday she had not dared leave the house, even for a walk in the street for some minimum exercise. She was too full of stress for what lay outside.

 

Nazanin told her husband this morning: 

“People should not underestimate the level of stress. People tell me to calm down. You don’t understand what it is like. Nothing is calm.” 

“I was called on Saturday night to check where I was by the Judiciary, asking was I really at my parents’ home? And of course I was. I haven’t even opened the door since being taken to court last week, too worried to step outside. But I almost threw up while on the call, wondering what they really wanted? I worried all night: why did they really ask? All the fears came flooding back. I couldn’t control it - just from that simple call.”

“And this morning I just wanted to scream out loud for 10 minutes, or to bang my head against the wall – just to let it out. I really can’t take it any more. They have all these games, and I have no power in them. Sometimes I am just full of anger ready to explode. I find myself hating everything in this life, including myself. There is no escape.”

“I would have rather it happened today. I do not sleep at all while the case is hanging over me. This morning I wanted to get it over with – to know where I stand now rather than continue with this whole stupid game.”

It is the uncertainty. In many ways a verdict would have been better than an open case, since an open case can be used so manipulatively. This case is made up anyway. So we had been hoping they just get on with it. If there is a trial a conviction will come, but again it would allow her to know where she stands, and reset for the worst to come.

The current uncertainty of this period, on the back of all that has happened these past four years is a kind of psychological torture – living with two bags packed, one for prison, and one home, with each option variously dangled before her nose. It is perpetually living at a fork in the road, but waiting for others to choose, and unchain us from these games.

 

Thanks for Care & Thoughts for Navid

Nazanin also asked her husband to pass on her thanks for all the lovely messages she has received since Tuesday and messages that have been posted on social media. Some of them have been very loving.

It has been hard to respond to them all, at points overwhelming during the shadows of this week. But we have no doubt that they keep us safe.

Our thoughts are also with the family of Navid Afkari, who was tragically killed this week. His story shook our family, as many others, for its belligerent cruelty, and its reminder of just what this regime is now capable of as it asserts its control.

Our thoughts are with his mother.

But the UK should not underestimate when it leaves its citizens in harm’s way just what this Iranian regime is prepared to do, nor the importance of the UK asserting its protection as a gateway. This is a discussion we will continue with the Foreign Secretary in the coming weeks. 

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