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Day 83 #FreeNazanin – Watching Windmills

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Jun 26, 2016 — It has been an eventful week – and I have struggled to keep up. I owe you updates on Nazanin’s latest family visit and conditions (good thing), on an online candlelit vigil (Tuesday if you’re free), but first I wanted to say something on those accusations.

You may have read: Nazanin was accused in the Iranian press of being the ringleader of a network planning the ‘soft overthrow’ of the Islamic Republic - through her membership in foreign media companies, and projects involving the media and social media. She was effectively accused of espionage.

Same as the rest of you, I found out through the newspapers – through them ringing me for a quote. That was the same way Nazanin’s family found out, and the way the Foreign Office did. Ironically it came a week after Nazanin was promised she was going to be released without charge. A week later she was the ringleader of a grand conspiracy. And in private quite different things are being said to my in-laws.

It still took the wind out of me. There is something breathtaking about taking a mother and baby while on holiday – even for the Revolutionary Guard. But to accuse Nazanin of running a global spy operation with a 2-year old in tow seems beyond ludicrous – something out of Monty Python as much as Kafka.

But it is not satire. The first step of interrogation is to hand over all your gmail and facebook passwords – for a dredge through your personal life for anything that can be used against you: from your current work, from years back, a connection to someone on a list. This is followed by intensive interrogations enclosed away - until a confession. Nothing much else is needed. Then there is the political presentation - grand stories in the press of you (or your facebook friends in one case this week), perhaps a televised confession. A lawyer is brought in when time to ratify in the court.

And it is not honest. The Revolutionary Guard knows Nazanin works for a charity rather than anything more sinister. They know she has no work dealings with Iran. They know the last time she worked on a project with any connection to Iran was many years ago as a project assistant. And they know there have been plenty of family trips to Iran since then. Nazanin is a proud Iranian. It was important to her that Gabriella saw her country and family regularly as she grows up. No attempts to overthrow the regime. Ironically she actually voted for President Rouhani, while many around us were too cynical. After 80 days of confinement, psychological pressures, and repeatedly dangling a return to her baby, of course they know everything about her.

Rather it is wary. Iran today seems divided – between those who want a new era of agreement with the world, and those who want to stop that happening. Nazanin’s detention is a message from the latter to scare the Iranian diaspora hoping to return with their outside ideas and associations. Fear of their influence is what the strange idea of ‘soft overthrow’ means. The point is not that Nazanin was doing anything in Iran. The point is to stop anyone from thinking to.

This is why it matters that Nazanin is British, and has British links. The Guard are watching for the windmills of the west, fighting British giants. Where a UK newspaper like the Mail often gives a picture of Britain falling apart, you need to read an Iranian newspaper to realise that everything is in the hands of the British. Yet last week everyone else in the case of a British woman taken and sentenced in 2013 was released. The prisoner with the British passport was kept.

Whatever else is going on, it is an opaque process – like watching the wind:

Nazanin could still be ground down the route of televised confessions and a sudden court case. The Iranian government has assured the Foreign Office that due process is now being followed. The 83 days without access to a lawyer is because they are still confirming whether he is on their approved list. There is no list to check.

But we could also find the case reviewed and resolved. Contrary to rumours, Nazanin has not actually been charged. The accusations were only a series of press releases issued by the Kerman Branch of the Revolutionary Guard, attempting to justify its actions (and budgets) in the wake of her being transferred to Tehran. There the investigation phase of her case has been reopened. Hopefully now there is proper oversight. The new family visits are a positive sign.

And it is Ramadan, a time when people are released home. For Nazanin and Gabriella, there is a soft wind to harness – which is the hope of Tuesday’s vigil.

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