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Belsize Park hosts Christmas festivities and rallies behind Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

PUBLISHED: 14:38 14 December 2016 | UPDATED: 14:44 14 December 2016

Jim Broadbent with organiser Linda Grove and sponsor Andrew Thornton from Budgens. Photo: Polly Hancock

Jim Broadbent with organiser Linda Grove and sponsor Andrew Thornton from Budgens. Photo: Polly Hancock

Archant

The community joined together with great hopes for Christmas and the New Year, and to send a message of hope for a West Hampstead mum jailed in Iran

Former Hampstead councillor Linda Chung talks to Richard Ratcliffe about the campaign to free Nazanin from prison in Iran. Photo: Polly HancockFormer Hampstead councillor Linda Chung talks to Richard Ratcliffe about the campaign to free Nazanin from prison in Iran. Photo: Polly Hancock

As the Royal Free and Belsize Community choirs lifted their voices, children danced on a stage at Budgens, Haverstock Hill.

Belsize Park actor Jim Broadbent praised the Royal Free volunteer gardening project, after “so many years of trash, litter and cigarette butts”.

Organisers are hoping to raise £5,000 for gardening materials and flowers.

But the crowd of 100 people fell silent as Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe trapped in Iran, spoke on Tuesday.

He thanked organisers for standing so steadfastly beside her.

Mr Ratcliffe said: “Nazanin would have loved to be here as she is very fond of Christmas.

“We actually met at a student conference and went off for coffee, and I said to friends at the time, it felt like coming home.

“There are cultural differences and different worlds as has become clearer, but that first Christmas together, going off to carols, it was a lovely time.

“It’s nice to be here as her delegate as it were, and to see the flowers and hope that she will be able to see them too some day.”

Linda Chung, a former Hampstead councillor, said: “Nazanin, we are with you, we are thinking of you, and we will do what we can to set you free.”

Mr Ratcliffe said Nazanin has been on hunger strike and is desperate and even suicidal.

She was seized at Tehran airport on April 3 with her daughter, Gabriella, now two, as she returned from a family holiday.

Gabriella had her passport seized and is staying with her grandparents in Iran.

Nazanin, a Thomson Reuters charity worker, was sentenced to five years on unknown charges.

The Rev Paul Nicholson of St Peter’s Church and Rabbi Stuart Altshuler of Belsize Square Synagogue led the community in prayer for Nazanin.

Mr Nicholson said: “We pray in this season of family celebration and togetherness for Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella and for all who are forced to be apart, in exile from their homes and families.”

Rabbi Altshuler said: “There is light in this time of year, both at Chanukah and Christmas.

“We share the hope of light and that light will change the darkness, that hope will emerge, a different world will emerge.”

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