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Editors view: If only Nazanin’s jail hell in Iran was just a play

PUBLISHED: 10:58 12 October 2017 | UPDATED: 10:58 12 October 2017

665 - Actress Jessica Butcher during a performance of “Looking for Mummy: Nazanin’s Story” in London, United Kingdom on October 10, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Cormac O’Brien

665 - Actress Jessica Butcher during a performance of “Looking for Mummy: Nazanin’s Story” in London, United Kingdom on October 10, 2017. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Cormac O’Brien

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Last night I watched a play about the devastating story of West Hampstead mum Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - who is spending her second year trapped in an Iranian jail cell falsely accused of being a spy.

Nazanin with baby Gabriella. Picture: RICHARD RATCLIFFE Nazanin with baby Gabriella. Picture: RICHARD RATCLIFFE

Looking For Mummy - Nazanin’s story, by Emi Howell, first performed at the Edinburgh festival, had a special performance at the headquarters of the Thomson Reuters Foundation – the charity where Nazanin worked.

As we watched this electrifying performance, many of us in the audience had tears streaming down our faces.

It was heartbreaking to watch Nazanin in a prison cell, recounting how she was seized at Tehran airport and her grief as she was torn apart from her 22-month old daughter Gabriella, thrown into jail and solitary confinement and interrogated by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Watching her being dragged into the Iranian Revolutionary court, accused of charges of plotting against the Iranian state, in a secret trial with no lawyer to represent her, and sentenced to five years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison was devastating.

Actress Jessica Butcher during a performance of '“Looking for Mummy: Nazanin's Story' which its producers want to tour across the UK. Picture: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION / CORMAC O’BRIEN Actress Jessica Butcher during a performance of '“Looking for Mummy: Nazanin's Story' which its producers want to tour across the UK. Picture: THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION / CORMAC O’BRIEN

Usually after a play, as we leave our seats, we chat about the story and go home knowing it is fiction.

But this horrific nightmare isn’t fiction.

It is an unbearable ongoing true story and as we returned to our homes it was chilling to think of Nazanin alone in her tiny cell.

Sitting in the audience and then addressing us on stage after the performance was Nazanin’s brave husband Richard Ratcliffe.

The West Hampstead accountant had just heard the horrific news that his wife, whose mental and physical health is deteriorating in jail, has now been hauled back into court to face new charges. This comes as she was eligible under Iranian law for early release next month.

These new charges of plotting to overthrow the Iranian regime carry a 16-year prison sentence. It is like your worst nightmare come true.

It is unacceptable that while Nazanin faces her second Christmas alone in her tiny cell, the British Government is carrying on ‘business as usual’ restoring trade and diplomatic relations with Iran and holding meetings with Iranian officials.

Since Nazanin was taken, the British government has refused to condemn Iran or declare Nazanin’s innocence. At the beginning Richard had some hope that behind the scenes foreign office officials were working on a deal to bring Nazanin home.

It now appears that either this has not been happening or if it has, has been unsuccessful. There has been no evidence of a deal signed or any meaningful behind the scenes negotiations.

Richard’s character in the play says: “I feel that the British Government does not have my family’s best interests at heart. We are so tired of being political pawns.”

Richard has previously spoken of his belief that his family has been caught up in a dispute between Britain and Iran over an unpaid debt. It is claimed the UK owes about £500 million to Iran for a tank deal 40 years ago. None of us know the real reasons why Nazanin, who has always protested her innocence and love for Iran,is being held.

In the meantime, we must all make sure that Nazanin’s name remains on the political agenda.

Last December, hundreds from our Hampstead community joined our march to Downing Street to deliver a letter to Theresa May demanding her release. We stood outside the foreign office chanting and we must keep making a lot of noise.

I will keep Nazanin’s story alive on these pages and urge our local MP Tulip Siddiq to keep shouting her name in the House of Commons.

Even if it achieves nothing for now, at least one day when Nazanin’s nightmare has ended she will know that we did not abandon her.

As I write, Amnesty International is holding a vigil in Parliament Square for Nazanin.

I urge you to visit www.change.org/p/free-nazanin-ratcliffe and sign the petition demanding our government help to secure Nazanin’s release. Only another 45,000 signatures are needed for the petition to reach a million.

You can also join a crowdfunding drive to help Nazanin’s story reach wider audiences by taking her play on tour here

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