London, 9 Oct – In London, vigils are held for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe outside the Iranian Embassy. When asked if the vigils help, Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, said, “It doesn’t matter. I know it’s what Nazanin wants. She needs to know that I’ve stood by her side.”
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian London resident in her thirties, is serving time for “non-specific charges” in a Tehran prison. She was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as she was boarding a flight home to London with her two-year-old daughter.
She had been in Iran on holiday to attend a family reunion and have her daughter, Gabriella, meet her Iranian grandparents for the first time.
Nazanin, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, went before Iran’s Supreme Court in April of this year. The court upheld Nazanin’s five-year conviction on non-specific charges related to national security. She was taken to Evin Prison in northwestern Tehran and held in solitary confinement for nine months. At her trial, she wasn’t allowed to speak. Richard Ratcliff has been campaigning to bring his wife home ever since.
Nazanin now resides in a detention wing that houses political prisoners. Her daughter’s passport was confiscated, and Gabriella now lives with her maternal grandparents in Iran.
Richard’s only contact with Gabriella is via Skype. He is attempting to be granted a visa to go to Iran and be reunited with her. He does not know when he’ll see his wife again.
Earlier this year it was revealed that UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has not met with the Ratcliffes’ local MP, Tulip Siddiq, or any of the Ratcliffe family.
Richard talked about his frustration. “I’ve gone through phases. I think they all care personally,” he said, and added, “They’ve never criticised her treatment; they’ve never acknowledged that she’s innocent. The government’s position will always be that it’s very delicate. I’m not fully persuaded on that. In some ways, it’s very straightforward – she should be protected.”
Regarding the vigils for his wife, Richard admits, “It’s therapeutic for me. Part of me being here now is so she knows that things are happening.”
While Nazanin was in solitary confinement, Richard had the opportunity to speak to his wife, but only when an interrogator present. Now that she’s been moved to the women’s ward, she gets a 60-minute phone call each week, but splits it into two 30-minute calls. They discuss the future and make plans. “That’s where the redemption is,” Richard said.
In a recent blog post, Richard wrote that Nazanin enjoys looking back at happy memories. “She plays mental games where she’ll try and remember what’s on the kitchen shelf,” Richard said.
Nazanin’s mental health is an ongoing concern. “She was very sad last autumn,” Richard said. In January of this year, it was reported that Nazanin had been on hunger strike and was experiencing suicidal thoughts. Tulip Siddiq organized a parliamentary debate in July, and she was finally granted sessions with a psychiatrist. “Since then, she’s been able to talk things through and she’s calmer,” Richard says.
The women imprisoned at Evin Prison are good at organizing activities to keep their spirits up. “Political prisoners don’t really lie on the mattress feeling sorry for themselves – they keep busy,” Richard said. In fact, Nazanin teaches English to the other inmates and she’s currently learning French. They read and discuss books and even attend Zumba classes. “Zumba’s not really allowed in Iran, so part of it is affirming that although they can’t control the outside, they’re still holding on to their dignity,” Richard explained.
“She made this,” he told news media, and displayed a small woodblock carving of two figures cradling their child. “That’s me, that’s her – and that’s Gabriella.” Nazanin made it for Richard as a Father’s Day gift.