Get Nazanin home — British charity worker in Iranian prison
On 9 October, Nazanin's husband reported that his wife may be facing additional criminal charges and a further prison sentence.
The new criminal proceedings are as baseless as the original ones, and once again criminalise this charity worker’s peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression and association through her work with Reuters and the BBC. The Iranian authorities have a track record of bringing fresh criminal charges against prisoners of conscience who they wish to keep in jail.
Arrested at the airport
Nazanin had been visiting family in Iran with her daughter Gabriella, and was about to board a flight back to London from a Tehran airport when she was arrested by officials believed to belong to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Her toddler daughter was handed to her grandparents who had accompanied them to the airport, while Nazanin was taken away.
A family torn apart
Following arrest, Nazanin was subjected to 45 days in solitary confinement. Her family had no idea where she was, and it wasn’t until a month later that she was allowed to see them; or to be granted access to a lawyer. Any contact with her family in Iran and the UK is now limited and controlled.
Gabriella, now three, has had no choice but to remain in Iran with her grandparents. She gets to see her mum just twice a week and only gets to speak to her dad, Richard Ratcliffe by Skype. Richard has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s freedom from their home in the UK.
Nazanin was arrested on vague charges, held in solitary confinement for months, and — following an unfair trial — was sentenced to five years in prison for 'membership of an illegal group'.
The charge was in connection to her work at the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), a charity organisation promoting socio-economic progress, independent journalism and the rule of law, and her past work at BBC’s Media Action.
We therefore consider Nazanin a prisoner of conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising her right to freedom of expression and association: she must be immediately and unconditionally released.
Prison is taking its toll on Nazanin. She suffers from severe arm, neck and back pain and needs urgent specialised medical care in hospital. In recent months, she has had very limited movement in her arms. The specialist who requested her hospitalisation warned that there is a risk that her right arm and hand will be permanently damaged if she doesn’t get the medical care she needs.
Nazanin’s husband shared a touching letter that Nazanin wrote in prison to Gabriella (Gisou is her Farsi name).
My Gisou, my sweet daughter,
Forgive me for the distance and for all the moments of loneliness that both of us, or rather, the three of us endured. Forgive me for all the nights I was not by your side to hold your warm, little hand till you fall asleep. Forgive me for all those moments you missed the bosom of your mother, for all those teething fever nights that I was not there for you; forgive me.
My golden Gisou, forgive me for that first week of our separation, when neither of us knew what was happening, and when you were burning in fever as your way of protesting separation from your mother’s bosom. Forgive me for they took you away not just from your mother, but from your father too.
Believe me, I could never imagine you would experience such anguish in a country where your mother came into this world and grew. Had I known, I would never have hurried to pack our suitcase for that two week trip to Tehran last March. That moment of farewell to your father at Gatwick, that cold day of reluctant spring, when you sweetly and naughtily gave him a hug and a kiss on his check, how could I even imagine destiny would strike us separate so long?
The day they, unfairly and unjustly, took you away from my bosom, when I’d been breastfeeding you until only a few days before. That day they promised freedom the following morning. I did not know or imagine in what faith or school of ethics, such injustice to a mother and her little child is acceptable. That day that morning hope of freedom was nothing but a lie.
My sweet girl, the sound of your laughter, has been ringing in my ears these past months, becoming one with me. Caressing your hair and listening to your velvety voice have been denied to me for many days become months. As those moments piled up, they have turned into giant black clouds pouring every night and every day like Monsoon rain, constantly with no power in me to stop.
Did they not hear long nightly whimpers of a mother? – those who issued a guilty verdict and to achieve their ends accused me, reproached me and locked me up in solitary confinement? The calls that have reached the ears of thousands and thousands of people throughout the world have not been heard here, in the country where I was born.
It is a story that people, far beyond borders that surround us, listened to, cried over and protested at the injustice we have been put through. Yet silence is the response of those who rule in my country.
“Believe me, I could never imagine you would experience such anguish in a country where your mother came into this world and grew”
My beautiful girl, on that warm day in June 2014, when you opened your eyes to this world for the first time, I could not know you, so young, would soon be subjected to a big lesson, a lesson of pain and suffering. Humans are born with pain and life is not what we always expect it to be. Yet patience is a legacy passed on from one generation. Ours never runs out.
Throughout the past ten months, I woke up every morning with the hope of returning home and holding you to my heart. I went to sleep every night with the dream of freedom in the morning. Still there is a flame in me that fires every night with hope of inhaling your warm breath and fades every morning in the hope of seeing and embracing you.
The day that I passed you on to the loving arms of my parents, you were too young and unable to comprehend dark reality of separation. You still don’t. Who does understand a reality that would separate you, me and your father from one another for months, maybe years.
My darling, with every new tooth you grew, every new word you learned, every step your climbed without help, every centimeter you grew, and the day you put on your dress by yourself, ate your meal without help, learned your first poem, drew your first drawing, learned colours in two languages, I was happy. But I also cried. My heart burned in this injustice. I had missed days that would not return and I was powerless as they went. I had to accept and surrender to reality as it was.
“Still there is a flame in me that fires every night with hope of inhaling your warm breath and fades every morning in the hope of seeing and embracing you”
My Gisou, forgive me for not being with you on your second birthday, for not being granted a brief phone call. But I know although you were denied my warm hug, your father arranged a big birthday party for you there with our friends and family. A celebration that neither of your parents could join with you, but I’m happy that at least your grandfather, grandmother, aunts and uncle in Tehran tried to fill for you the empty places of your father and me.
I will wait more, a little more. But one day you must listen to all I have to say. One day I will tell you the story of all these lonely days, the story of pain and separation. There will come a day when we will throw away all these bitter and old memories, all that is decayable and only keep the lessons we learned from them. You, I and your father will never succumb to this hurricane of fate. The love we share knows no boundaries and walls. It is our life. There will come a day that we will be able to live fresh all the days of our lives. Life can be separated into tiny pieces, each being life by itself, living again going to the park, drawing, making shapes with play dough, reading a story, eating ice cream, even laughing out loud from the top of a slide…
There will come a day when I will learn if strawberries and blueberries are still your favourite fruit, if orange is still your favourite colour. Maybe they are no longer.
My darling, do not sulk at separation. As happiness is not forever, sorrow and separation do not last either. Nader Ebrahimi says in A Gentle Love Song: Good and bad are moral values, not historical ones. We get all our senses – of good and evil, tyranny or justice, decadence or piety, hate or love toward other humans, not from history, but from the spring of our moral beliefs, conceived before history records.
My daughter, never think about passage of time. Only the defeated lament at the cruel plunder of time. We will defeat time, faith and hope are a sword in its stone heart.
My Gisou, there will come a day that we will be together again and tenderly hold one another’s loving hands. If time has deprived us of these days of togetherness and denied your father and me these days of your childhood, we do not fear. They can’t take away from us our memories. They can’t take our dreams for future.
Injustice will not remain unaccounted. But it is love that kept us together in these most difficult times, and love will bring us together again.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Evin Prison, 24 January 2017