Open letter to the Iranian people regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

PUBLISHED: 17:00 14 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:22 16 December 2017

Nazanin and Gabriella drawing in happier days. Picture: RICHARD RATCLIFFE

Nazanin and Gabriella drawing in happier days. Picture: RICHARD RATCLIFFE


An open letter to the people of Iran about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from Jessica Learmond-Criqui.

Some of you may have heard of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual Iranian and United Kingdom national who was sentenced last year to five years imprisonment, accused of being a spy and of trying to overthrow the Iranian government.

Why am I writing to you? Why should you be interested in reading this letter or be interested in Nazanin’s case at all? Allow me to explain.

I am a lawyer and a national of the United Kingdom (UK) as well as a resident in North West London in the same neighbourhood in which Nazanin lives/ lived with her husband and young daughter before being detained and imprisoned in Evin prison earlier last year. Her husband Richard is in the UK while Gabriella is in Iran being cared for by Nazanin’s parents. He and many others in the UK have campaigned tirelessly for Nazanin’s release.

As the longest and darkest night of the year ends the month of Azar next Wednesday 20 December, the festival of Shab-e Chelleh will be celebrated that evening until the evening of the following day, Thursday 21 December. This is a special time in Iran when you, your family and friends will be together to eat, drink and read poetry, especially by Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, affectionally known by his pen name Hafez. Hafez is considered by many in and out of Iran – including from different cultures – to be one of the seven literary wonders of the world.

This is an important and auspicious time of year when being in the bosom of one’s family is celebrated and cherished.

Nazanin may not be able to share in the delights of Shab-e Chelleh given her current detention. On Shab-e Chelleh, she will have spent 634 days in Evin prison, a substantial chunk of time in her prime which she can never recover.

Her daughter, Gabriella, is now three years old and has been bereft of her human right to the constant love, presence and comfort of her mother at a time when she needs her most. Her husband Richard has been without her companionship and consortium for many months and has been denied a visa to come to Iran so that he could visit her.

Nevertheless, their love for each other knows no borders and even in this terrifying situation, their love continues to grow as he pleads for her release. His anguish is laid bare for all to see and I can do no better than the words in the fourth verse of Hafez’s poem entitled ‘Lady that has my heart’ as below:

My heart, sad hermit, stains the cloister floor

With drops of blood, the sweat of anguish dire;

Ah, wash me clean, and o’er my body pour

Love’s generous wine! the worshippers of fire

Have bowed them down and magnified my name,

For in my heart there burns a living flame,

Transpiercing Death’s impenetrable door.

One of your guiding principles of faith is that the Prophet Muhammad is seen as the last of God’s emissaries (following in the footsteps of Jesus, Moses, Abraham, etc) to bring revelation to mankind. He was distinguished with bringing a message for the whole of mankind, rather than just to a certain peoples. As Moses brought the Torah and Jesus the Bible, Muhammad brought the last book, the Quran. The Quran and the actions of The Prophet are used as the basis for all guidance in your faith.

As the family unit is the basis of your social structure and the concept of family is more private than in many other cultures, it is paramount that female relatives are protected and taken care of at all times. This has not been the case with Nazanin and she has been punished enough for a crime which she and her family vehemently maintain she did not commit and of which she is innocent.

The ability of her young family to form a unit and be together at Shab-e Chelleh is currently broken. She is being denied the fundamental right in Iranian culture to be present in and to manage her family unit - her family is split asunder.

I invite you to find it in your hearts to think about Nazanin in the run up to Shab-e Chelleh and to pray that her nightmare will be brought to an end at the end of Azar so that she may be released from Evin prison and freed.

I would further implore you to let her start with a new beginning at the start of Dey when she can still enjoy some of the festival of Shab-e Chelleh this year. If you find it in your hearts to pray for her and her loved ones, I leave you with a story which I learned of Hafez’s profound compassion and wisdom which you may already know, which is below:

Once a young woman came to Hafiz and said,

“What is the sign of someone knowing God?”

And Hafez became very quiet, and stood in silence

for nearly a minute... lovingly looking deep into the

young woman’s eye, then softly spoke,

“My dear, they have dropped the knife. The person

who knows God has dropped the cruel knife most

so often use upon their tender self – and others.”

May Shab-e Chelleh see the knife being dropped against Nazanin so that she may be free to join with Gabriella and return to the loving embrace of her husband Richard during this auspicious occasion. May I prevail upon you to entreat your rulers and spiritual leaders to show Nazanin clemency and compassion at this time as Hafez has taught.

May God and his emissary, the Prophet Muhammad, keep you all safe and bless you in the years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Jessica Learmond-Criqui

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