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Free Nazanin: Husband's 'jokes for freedom' campaign on second anniversary of jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's arrest in Iran

PUBLISHED: 16:26 29 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:58 31 March 2018

Nazanin and Gabriella  Ratcliffe before they were detained in Iran. Picture: Ratcliffe Family

Nazanin and Gabriella Ratcliffe before they were detained in Iran. Picture: Ratcliffe Family

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The husband of jailed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is calling on supporters to mark the second anniversary of his wife's arrest in Iran by sharing jokes to lift her spirits.

The Ratcliffe Family before Nazanin's arrest in Iran. Picture: Ratcliffe familyThe Ratcliffe Family before Nazanin's arrest in Iran. Picture: Ratcliffe family

Since being arrested at Tehran airport on April 3 2016 with her baby daughter Gabriella, Nazanin, 39, has been interrogated, kept in solitary confinement, mentally tortured, and is now serving a five-year jail sentence in Evin prison for plotting against the Iranian state. Gabriella, now three, is being looked after by her grandparents in Tehran and has forgotten how to speak English.

Many tears have been shed during this time but now her husband is determined to mark the anniversary of this fateful day with a celebration of the freedom to laugh.

Richard Ratcliffe, of Fortune Green Road, is holding a comedy night to remind Nazanin that there is joy waiting for her in the outside world.

He is also calling on people to share jokes and things that make them smile on social media with the hashtag #chooselaughter and #free2laugh on April Fools Day on Sunday.

These jokes will be hung on a tree in Nazanin’s favourite park near her home in Fortune Green, and made into a jokes calendar which he will send to Nazanin and other prisoners to help lift their spirits.

Richard said: “Laughter is a kind of freedom. Even in prison, it’s important to keep your spirits up, for Nazanin and the other women, important to briefly forget their woes.

“It is something we can do in the outside world - to share what makes us smile, to remind them there is an outside, there are reasons to smile, that laughter keeps us human. Every day, for the one day to come.”

Some of the UK’s leading funnymen and women will be performing standup comedy at the One Night of Freedom tribute to Nazanin - including comedians Al Murray, Sara Pascoe, Mark Steel and Shappi Khorsandi.The event is now sold out.

Richard has been campaigning tirelessly for the past two years to reunite his family. Hopes that dual British Iranian citizen Nazanin would be released on humanitarian grounds at Christmas were dashed when foreign secretary Boris Johnson returned from a trip to Tehran without her.

A plea to release her in time for the Iranian festival of Nowruz this week has fallen on deaf ears and Iranian promises to release her on parole, or ‘fulough’ have not been met.

Richard said amid all these dashed hopes: “Nazanin can be hard to reach, stuck in an inner Eeyore of morbid thoughts. She gets overwhelmed by anger – at those who took her and their inconsistent injustice, at those not moving to solve. She gets angry with herself, repeatedly remembering moments with Gabriella, when she was too sharp and cannot make amends. She gets angry with her cellmates, and their ability not to be angry. Again she is having nightmares where she is woken up by panic attacks.

The past two years have been a psychological squeezing. The longer it goes on, the more I realise the risk of enveloping glumness.

“We decided that if we got to this anniversary still detained, we would need to choose laughter.”

He said that in prison: “The women sit together some evenings telling each other funny stories, doing impressions of the guards and each other, remembering stories from former cellmates. It is a way of surviving - not waving, but clowning - particularly in the moments when people are taken to court jokes help release the fear, to physically lose themselves in laughter, and relieve the tension. The most beloved prisoners, most missed when transferred away, are those whose laughter is infectious, even when they are in pain.

“But most of all laughter is an antidote to isolation. And that is what the outside can do when people ask what helps. You can show her she’s not alone - by sharing what makes you smile. room, This anniversary is hard, but I hope also it can be a reminder of a different space – that beyond the grey walls, there is a world of colour to share, still answering that need to smile.”

Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International, which has campaigned for Nazanin’s release, said: “There’s absolutely nothing funny about what the Iranian authorities have done to Nazanin, but there’s something very powerful about displaying humour in the face of injustice. This isn’t exactly jokes for freedom, but it’s the next best thing. On a deadly serious note: Nazanin should be freed at the earliest possible opportunity and she should be allowed to return to Britain with her young daughter on the first available flight.”

For more information visit free Nazanin page at change.org here

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