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#FreeNazanin: Every Individual Has Human Rights. It’s Personal.

November 15, 2021

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian citizen and wife of British Richard Ratcliffe (holding her picture here), has now been detained for almost six years by the Iranian authorities since, about to return to the UK after a visit to her parents with her infant daughter, she was arrested in Tehran. Very sadly, her husband Richard has not seen Nazanin even once since that time. Instead, Richard has spent innumerable days, weeks and months seeking ways to bring Nazanin back home but – despite heroic efforts – to date without success.

On Christmas Day 2020 I received a phone call from a person in the Foreign Office.  His message was brief: ‘Your friend is safe in our care.’

This message concerned another British-Iranian, mentioned below, who had been wrongly detained in Iran. Whilst by no means the end of the story, that phone call marked the fundamental, essential and critical step in lifting the burden – much, much less for me than Richard and Nazanin’s –  of getting matters resolved.  I know very many of us hope every day that the British Government will now, immediately, secure the same outcome for Nazanin and her family.

Enough is enough. It is high time Richard’s massive investment of effort, love and care was matched by UK Government action securing the resolution we all seek.  Not ‘only’ must Nazanin urgently regain her freedom, but she must not receive any more of the cruel treatment and neglect of detainees’ health handed out by the Iranians who incarcerate Western hostages.  With a determined effort by our political leaders, as with some other Western hostages Nazanin’s freedom can surely be secured.

I do not often stray from general issues to personal matters, but to a very modest extent the situation around #FreeNazanin has for me become personal, and I feel I must say something.

Culpability for this tragic theft of the Ratcliffe family’s time together, and of Richard’s energy and devotion to his family, lies principally with the Iranians, who have twice imposed prison sentences on Nazanin as guilty of concocted state security charges. But blame also lies with the British authorities, especially with the UK’s most senior politicians, who have shown a contemptable insouciance in the face of the Radcliffe family’s distress.

A long-time UK debt triggered Nazanin’s detention
The fact of the matter is that Britain owes some £400 million to Iran, and has done so for about four decades.  In the 1970s the Iranians paid the UK vast sums for delivery of military equipment (tanks etc) but most of these items were never delivered because the country’s then leader, the Shah of Iran, was deposed by the new revolutionary and theocratic regime we know today, and which includes both the national legislature and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG).  Since that time, the Iranians have sued successfully to have their money refunded, but, despite various intimations that it will be paid – including by the current British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, when Foreign Secretary – the money, now acknowledged as a debt, remains just that.

Excuses for the UK defaulting on this payment to Iran have changed over time, and it seems that yet another excuse has recently been found not to pay; but the ‘reasons’ for this position have not been made public.  Nonetheless, and despite denials by some, it is clear that Nazanin and at least three other British-Iranians, Anoosheh Ashoori, Mehran Raoof and the British / American-Iranian Morad Tahbaz, will be held ‘hostage’ until the money is paid.

Some have asked if the fact that Nazanin, Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz are dual nationals with foreign-sounding names adversely influenced the amount of attention devoted to their plight, at least in the early stages? Perhaps that somehow played a part in the reluctance to take matters forward.

Human collateral 
Alongside the British prisoners in Iran’s notorious jails, one of the most vulnerable parties in this tragic tale is Gabriella, now aged 7, who will have no recollection of a time when she was with both her parents.  Until she was nearly 5 she lived in Tehran with her maternal grandparents, seeing Nazanin whenever possible in prison (or when furloughed in her parents’ home).  Then, when she was old enough to start school, Gabriella was sent to be with her father  in London.  Nazanin agreed that this was for the best; but she was also ‘at breaking point’, distraught at letting her child leave Iran.

Almost throughout Gabriella’s life, Nazanin and Richard have each had to act as ‘single parents’, whilst also maintaining their daughter’s contact through the ether with the other parent.

None of this should have happened.  Nazanin was simply visiting her parents in Tehran when the Iranians decided to arrest her.  Her treatment since that arrest has been appalling; it should not have been inflicted on anyone.  And like the first one, the second trial, a delaying tactic by the Iranians to keep Nazanin hostage, a human bargaining chip, was a sham.

Failures of the UK Government
But, as this excellent short film by Ros Atkins and BBC report makes very clear, the UK Government has also been massively irresponsible and unhelpful.

Despite public commitments to ‘leave no stone unturned‘, there has been little concrete evidence of progress by the British Government to return Nazanin to her family in London.  Matters here were not helped when the Foreign Secretary at the time, Boris Johnson, announced in Parliament that Nazanin had been training journalists in Iran – a claim he quickly had to rescind, but which by then had already again seen Nazanin summoned to the courts. Since that time Mr Johnson has also broken his promise to pay the debt to Iran

Both Nazanin and Richard have been on hunger strikes for her release before, but this month (November 2021) Richard has endured a longer, 21 days, vigil without food, camping out immediately opposite the main entrance to the Foreign Office in London.  Richard’s fear is that Nazanin will shortly be returned from house arrest in her parents’ home to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, following a sadly unsurprising failed appeal regarding the latest court judgement that she was a threat to national security.

Even these latest alarming developments – the danger in which Nazanin is placed, and the enormous self-sacrifice only just ended of Richard – have not much moved the British Prime Minister or Liz Truss, the current Foreign Secretary.  Three former UK foreign secretaries — Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw & Jeremy Hunt — have now said Britain can & should repay its £400m debt to Iran, and the Government acknowledges that Nazanin’s detention is ‘arbitrary’, but still they will not agree to refund the £400 million owed to Iran, nor it seems will they consider other non-money ways (perhaps e.g. donated Covid19 vaccines?) to recompense Iran for the debt.

The Ratcliffes’ local MP, Tulip Siddiq, will no doubt continue to pursue all these issues whenever she can, but it is concerning that, extraordinarily, she has been instructed (as of 15 November 2021) by a Westminster official not to mention the £400 million debt in Parliament – even though the Lords have recently done so.  (NB Fortunately, this instruction was over-ruled by the chair of the debate on Nazanin’s situation, Sir Charles Walker, on 16 November 2021.)

So where does this leave matters?
Richard’s hunger strike this month, November 2021, has drawn widespread international interest and concern about the situation in which he and his wife and child find themselves. (The hashtag #FreeNazanin is currently – mid-November 2021 – appearing thousands of times every hour.)  But so far it seems our Prime Minister is still determined, in his characteristic way, to brazen this matter out.  It seems not to be important to him that, even particular individuals aside, the Iranian hostage situation comprises a grave and blatant disregard for the human rights of falsely detained British citizens.

The contrast between the demeanours of Boris Johnson and Richard Ratcliffe could not be greater.  The former is increasingly perceived as attending only to his own self-regarding interests, brushing aside without care any who stand in his way, whilst the latter is a principled human being, always courteous and kind even under such great duress.

It’s personal for many of us
And how do I know this about Richard Ratcliffe?

Well, quite recently I was almost the sole British citizen in contact with the UK authorities on behalf of my British-Iranian colleague the anthropologist Kameel Ahmady, with whom I have collaborated for several years in work on FGM, child ‘marriage’ and other gendered human rights issues, and who has experienced some of the nightmares which the Ratcliffes continue to endure.    I got just a tiny glimpse of the awfulness with which Richard has had to cope.

In 2019 Kameel was detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and sent to Evin Prison on trumped up charges not dissimilar to Nazanin’s.  From that time until early this year (2021) I felt a heavy private responsibility, arising from our shared academic work and connections, for (eventually) securing the safety in the UK of Kameel and of his wife and child.  It was Kameel about whom I received that brief message on Christmas Day 2020.

And which kind individual, despite the huge personal weight on his own shoulders, offered me quiet help during this (to be honest, very distressing) time?  Yes, it was Richard Ratcliffe, who had enough to worry about already, but somehow still found the energy and focus to advise and support me too.

Richard’s unceasing decency has made it very easy for many, many of us to do whatever we possibly can to put right the wrongs which the Radcliffe family (and the families of other British-Iranians) have suffered for so long.

There remain numerous questions and issues which very many of us will continue to demand are addressed.
(Post script: Here is the link to the Parliamentary debate, asking many of these questions and led on 16 November 2021 by Tulip Siddiq MP.)

Human rights must always, always be defended.

And sometimes the personal is evidently also political, and the political is personal.  This for me is one of those personal times.

#FreeNazanin   #IranianHostages  #PayTheDebtNOW

#FreeAnoosheh  #FreeThemAll

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Books by Hilary Burrage on female genital mutilation

18.04.12 FGM books together IMG_3336 (3).JPG

Eradicating Female Genital Mutilation: A UK Perspective (Hilary Burrage, Ashgate / Routledge 2015).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation  (Hilary Burrage, New Holland Publishers 2016).
Full contents and reviews   HERE.

Email: Hilary @  Twitter@HilaryBurrage  LinkedInHilary Burrage


One Comment leave one →
  1. cathy hough permalink
    November 16, 2021 20:55

    I would love to know how we can help Nazanin when this government just does not care

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