Ham&High editor: ‘Nazanin’s Hampstead community are saying “enough is enough”’

Nazanin with husband Richard and newborn baby Gabriella in West Hampstead

Nazanin with husband Richard and newborn baby Gabriella in West Hampstead - Credit: Archant

As Hampstead parents march on Downing Street today to call for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release from Iran, editor Emily Banks explains why the Ham&High stand behind them

When I first reported in April that West Hampstead mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her toddler Gabriella had been seized at Tehran airport as they returned from a family holiday I could never have imagined that eight months later Nazanin would be facing Christmas alone and desperately ill in an Iranian jail cell.

It was heartbreaking to write last week that she is on the verge of suicide and unbearably thin after going on hunger strike in a futile attempt to gain some control of her situation by rejecting the food she fears is laced with sedatives.

Her Iranian mother was so shocked at the sight of the shell of her once healthy and vibrant daughter during a jail visit last week that she passed out.

Gabriella, now two, who was snatched from her mother’s arms at the airport, is now being looked after by her grandparents after her passport was seized.

As her St John’s Wood nursery school friends write their Christmas lists, Gabriella is far away in Tehran and only gets to talk to her dad Richard Ratcliffe via Skype and see her mummy during carefully monitored jail visits.

In a horrifying development it emerged that during these visits the toddler, who now speaks more Farsi than English, was forced to wear a sack over her head while being led through the Evin prison – notorious for its terrible conditions.

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Gabriella too became hysterical at the sight of her sick mother last week.

Imagine the long-term effect all this will have on the toddler who only last year was sitting in her West Hampstead home opening Peppa Pig Christmas presents with her loving parents.

Accountant Richard has campaigned tirelessly for his wife’s release and is quite rightly furious with the British government for its failure to put pressure on the Iranian government and ensure that Nazanin, a British and Iranian dual national, is brought home.

Now we, Nazanin’s Hampstead community, are saying “enough is enough”.

After our front page story last week, I was contacted by several community members and fellow parents who asked: “What can we do? Nazanin is one of us and we cannot sit by and let her die.”

Among them was Hampstead solicitor and fellow mum Jessica Learmond-Criqui and Belsize Park former deputy head teacher and mum Linda Grove who I joined forces with to organise a march to Downing Street.

These are the same formidable women who have fought many successful battles for our community.

They have taken on the might of superstores Tesco and Sainsbury’s to stop them opening on the High Street at the expense of local shops – and won.

They have successfully fought many powerful local developers and local authorities in planning battles.

Now they are taking on the might of the Iranian government and the British government to demand Nazanin is released and brought home.

The Facebook group Hampstead Mums, of which Nazanin was an active member and which has kept her name alive on its pages since April, has also joined this battle.

The group’s founders Diana Von Rettig and Robin Zaragoza have issued a call to their members to march too.

With banners being printed, routes being confirmed and the word being spread, we are ready to go.

We are marching arm in arm to show Nazanin, Gabriella and Richard how much we care and to demand they are reunited.

Nazanin is one of us and we are determined that we will not give up until she is home.

Following the march, other events are being organised to keep up the fight for Nazanin.

Linda Grove has planted daffodil bulbs, donated by Homebase, outside Budgens, in Haverstock Hill. We can only hope Nazanin is home to see them bloom.

When the Belsize Christmas Lights are switched on, on December 13 by actor Jim Broadbent, faith leaders will say prayers for the Ratcliffe family.