West Hampstead community backs Nazanin 2,000 days since imprisonment
- Credit: Sally Patterson
West Hampstead residents and MP have gathered in Parliament Square to mark the 2,000th day since Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran.
On Thursday (September 23), Nazanin’s husband Richard and daughter Gabriella played a giant game of Snakes and Ladders with members of parliament to portray the West Hampstead residents’ plight over the past five and a half years.
Nazanin was held in Tehran in 2016 on long-refuted national security charges while taking Gabriella to see her family.
Richard invited MPs to “step onto the board” as a symbolic act of solidarity with himself and the families of other British nationals held in Iran.
The family then handed in a petition to 10 Downing Street, calling for Nazanin and fellow British prisoner Anoosheh Ashoori to be released.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss recognised the 2,000-day landmark since Nazanin's "cruel separation from her family" in a statement.
This week she met with Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian at the United Nations General Assembly in New York
Ms Truss said: “She is going through an appalling ordeal. We are working tirelessly to secure her return home to her family.
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“I pressed the Iranian foreign minister on this yesterday and will continue to press until she returns home.”
Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said the UK government must “take responsibility” and stop using Nazanin as a “pawn”.
She told the Ham&High: “She’s a British citizen, and she should be back here in West Hampstead, reunited with her family.
“What we can’t ignore is that the UK owes a huge debt to Iran, and until we solve that it doesn’t feel like my constituent is coming home.
“It feels that it’s the last thing on the agenda, and whilst I recognise there are other big issues, this is a woman’s life- a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister.
“If we don’t take action, this child is missing out on her childhood with her mother, and Nazanin has also spoken about how time is running out for her to have another child, which she wanted to do."
Chief executive of Amnesty International UK, Sacha Deshmukh, praised the role of the local community throughout the past 2,000 days.
The West Hampstead resident said: “I think they have been enormously supportive, and I think Nazanin is genuinely in the hearts of people right across the community.
“There are hundreds of locals who have been ardent campaigners for someone who has been wrenched out of the local community.”
He said the Snakes and Ladders board represents the “games” the government has played with people like Nazanin.
Amnesty’s bespoke board game features "ladders" such as the UK granting Nazanin diplomatic protection status and Dominic Raab saying Iran’s treatment of her amounted to torture, as well as "snakes", including when the British national was handed a second jail sentence earlier this year.
“Any step of progress is fragile and can come tumbling back down straight away,” Sacha said.
“I think it’s very good that Liz Truss has expressed support so quickly, but words now need to be followed up very quickly with action, or they will be even more of the disappointment that we’ve experience over the last few years."
Richard Ratcliffe is also grateful for the support network around himself and the couple's daughter.
"Landmark days are quite mournful, because it feels like, when are the government going to pull their finger out and deal with this?', he said.
“But one of the mums from school walked past and came and said 'hello', which is lovely.
“The community having been with us from the beginning has meant so much."
He said the foreign secretary has offered to speak to Nazanin today, but he is concerned about what the government’s reshuffle will mean for his wife’s case.
“A fresh start on both sides could be good and could be bad. It’s a new person with a different skillset and charm, so who knows,” he said.
“This is the first time we’ve had a woman in the role, who is a mother herself and can engage with it on those terms.”