Free Nazanin: Pressure on government rises as end of sentence approaches

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with a cake she baked under house arrest in Tehran. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with a cake she baked under house arrest in Tehran. - Credit: PA

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's five-year-long prison sentence in Iran ends on March 7 - but with days to go there is little sign she'll be allowed to return home.

In the lead-up to the date – described as a "watershed" last week by husband Richard – supporters including Olivia Colman, Emma Thompson and Shappi Khorsandi have read poems in Nazanin's honour. 

And Nazanin's local MP, Tulip Siddiq, told this newspaper she "accosted" Boris Johnson in parliament to make the point, again, that more needs to be done to guarantee her freedom.

Richard Ratcliffe

Richard Ratcliffe said the UK's failure to rescue his wife Nazanin and others like her detained in Iran was a "blot on democracy". - Credit: PA

Nazanin has been detained in Iran since 2016, accused of spying. She has always denied this, and supporters have fought for the government to acknowledge that her imprisonment - and that of others with British ties - amounts to hostage-taking and that she should be released immediately. 

Again and again Nazanin has been denied her freedom – even when by Iran's own laws she could have been pardoned during the pandemic.

She has been asked to spy on the UK. She has been denied medical treatment. She has had the threat of a second trial hanging over her for much of her sentence. Both Nazanin and Richard have undertaken hunger strikes.

In the ten days leading up to March 7, friends and supporters have used poetry to highlight Nazanin's unjust imprisonment, and demand more is done to guarantee her release.

Most Read

The initiative has been led by actress and director Emi Howell who produced the play Looking for Mummy - Nazanin's Story in the early days of Nazanin's detention. 

Amnesty International is backing the campaign, and it has featured some of Nazanin's most high-profile supporters, including north London actress Emma Thompson, who helped lead a "mothers' march" for Nazanin in 2017.

Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “We’ve always said Nazanin should never have been jailed in the first place, but the important thing now is that she’s released very soon and is immediately able to be reunited with her husband and daughter in the UK.

“This daily countdown to reunion will hopefully help bolster Nazanin’s spirits, as she sees the amazing level of support she has.

“Nazanin has suffered a lot during this lengthy ordeal, but we’re within days of the finishing line."

Tulip Siddiq told this newspaper that "wishing for the best is not enough".

She said:  “It is shocking to think that it has been five years since my constituency Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was imprisoned in Iran for a crime she did not commit.

"It has felt like a lifetime to me, so I can only imagine what it has felt like for Nazanin, who has been treated appallingly and separated from her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella."

Tulip said that, despite recently being told by the prime minister that he would "do everything he could" to bring Nazanin home, she was concerned this was "just another empty promise". 

This week Richard said: “It is shocking that what started off as a mum and a baby on holiday could be allowed to last for five years.

“There’s no ambiguity in that, that’s just staggering."

This week, former Ham&High editor Emily Banks also wrote that, as far back as 2016: "It soon became clear that, if they [the FCDO] were doing anything at all, they were failing."

Richard said the lack of progress in the cases of Nazanin and other British nationals detained as "leverage" was a "blot on British democracy".

Tulip added: "Since 2016, I have asked question after question, written letter after letter and made speech after speech to government ministers, urging them to use every lever at their disposal to free Nazanin. For the most part, very little has been done."

Last week Richard told the Ham&High that the end of Nazanin's sentence would see a "fig leaf" removed in her case, and that "if we get to March 7 without anything, then it's pretty clear the UK's strategy is not working".

Asked what arrangements had been made for Nazanin's return home,  a foreign office spokesperson said: "The foreign secretary and FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) remain in close contact with Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family, and continue to provide our support.

“We do not accept Iran detaining dual British nationals as diplomatic leverage. The regime must end its arbitrary detention of all dual British nationals."

In Iran, Nazanin is counting down the days until she can pack her things and fly home.

In West Hampstead, her daughter Gabriella is counting down the days "like an advent calendar", Richard said, until her mum is allowed home. 

That should be on Sunday.