My wife, imprisoned in Iran for six months and counting
By Richard Ratcliffe
Today marks six months since my wife, Nazanin, was taken and put in an Iranian prison. It marks six months since Gabriella, our two-year-old daughter, had her passport confiscated so that she would be kept in Iran.
Nazanin is a charity worker in the UK. Nazanin and Gabriella were in Iran on holiday, visiting Nazanin’s parents. On April 3, while on their way home, Nazanin was arrested at the airport check-in desk. Since then it has been another world.
Nazanin was transported 1,000 km from her family to Kerman prison. There she was kept isolated in solitary confinement, subject to relentless interrogation by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, without access to a lawyer or her family. Alongside this interrogation, the Iranian press was full of accusations that she was the ringleader of a spy network for the UK and other foreign governments attempting the “soft overthrow” of the regime. She went in healthy, weeks later she was unable to walk.
After they interrogated her officials promised Nazanin that she would be released. Instead, she was transferred to the notorious Evin prison, where she was told (and later we were also told) that she was being kept as a political bargaining chip, and would be released if the British government reached an agreement with her jailors.
Last month, Nazanin was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment following a secret trial by the Revolutionary Court. She was convicted of secret charges, relating to “national security”. We are awaiting an appeal, though again the authorities will not tell anyone where the appeal will be.
Gabriella, our daughter, has now been separated from us for a quarter of her life. She had her second birthday away from both her parents. Of all the things Nazanin is going through, she said this separation from Gabriella is by the hardest part.
Today marks six months. In that time, the Iranian authorities have never even been willing to meet with me to discuss why they have detained my family.
Equally, it has been a shock how little the UK government has been able to protect them, or to stand up for a British mother and baby held in this way. At the Conservative Party conference yesterday, the Foreign Secretary said the UK should become a global campaigner for promoting democracy and human rights alongside promoting free trade around the world. While the Government has “expressed concern” – but never criticism – of Nazanin’s and Gabriella’s treatment, it has never stated that the allegations are nonsense and called for their release.
Nazanin is one of a number of UK nationals with Iranian passports held in Iranian prisons for political reasons (dual nationals). She is part of a new wave of people from a number of Western countries who have been arrested recently while visiting their families, on accusations of national security.
While some countries have had more success in securing their citizens’ release, for the UK, there is a new policy on Iran – to promote trade and trips, and show Brexit Britain is open for business. The government has reopened the embassy in Tehran and is encouraging new links. There is a risk that more families could go through what we’re going through.
The Foreign Secretary’s commitment yesterday coincides with a new phase of our campaign with Amnesty: we have a petition asking for the new Foreign Secretary to do more. If government policy is to encourage more travel and trade with Iran, if it is to “stick up vigorously for human rights,” it needs to do a better job at protecting its own citizens from abuse.
The Foreign Secretary needs to be clear in public – this abuse by the Iranian authorities needs to stop. He needs to push harder to bring Nazanin and Gabriella home – as other countries have started to manage with their citizens.
In the meantime, he also needs to ensure that Nazanin is treated fairly. Now we have a new British Ambassador to Iran, I have asked if he can visit Nazanin in prison personally. I have asked that he deliver a letter to her from me, as other Ambassadors have managed in other cases.
Around all the big politics and bargain chip waiting – it is simple things that have significance in Nazanin’s life – a visit from Gabriella, or a phone call to me, having a message from the outside as a reminder.
One of Amnesty’s most important powerful messages has always been the reminder amongst this overwhelming experience of cruelty, that there is kindness out there, there is light, and that she is not alone.
Thank you for being our – and the government’s – reminder.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.