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Day 72 #FreeNazanin – Happy Cake

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Jun 14, 2016 — Gabriella likes birthdays. ‘Happy cake’ as she calls them – which for her is the main event.

On Friday, we had a birthday picnic for her in Hyde Park in front of the Iranian Embassy. A party in front of the embassy is obviously making a political point – that it is not ok to separate a young child from her mother and father for 70 days.

But Nazanin wanted it to be a happy day. It had the potential to be sad enough, but birthdays are for celebrating. Nazanin is very proud of her little girl, growing up cheeky and cheery. For me, celebrating Gabriella’s spirit this year felt especially important.

Nazanin had always wanted to do a picnic in the park, so we had a teddy bears’ picnic – a coming together of family and friends from far to be there for Gabriella. The wider family had made bunting and banners, and brought their bears – and there was lots of cake (I am still eating it now).

Thanks to the wonders of skype, Gabriella was there. We sang her two songs: ‘If you’re happy and you know it’ (her favourite), and ‘happy birthday’. It can be sometimes hard to hold her 2 year old attention. But with a big crowd singing, she was entranced - giggling, singing, and clapping to the end. One of those moments that keeps me going as her father.

Together we delivered her last card of the thousands which have been sent via Embassies around the world. Though they did not want to pick it up in front of the cameras, the Iranian Embassy agreed to take it - one of the consequences of confiscating Gabriella’s passport is that they have legal duties, including delivering messages from family and friends. The Embassy also promised to meet me and explain their government’s actions.

On Saturday, it was a house too full of empty beds for a birthday morning. So I went down to my parents. We called Tehran to join my in-laws more intimate party, with another cake, with balloons and a hat, and happy birthday again (with mandatory clapping). And she showed off her doll, which a friend had delivered. I had also sent birthday cards from her own nursery, with some pictures for her grandparents to see.

Nazanin had hoped to be out by Gabriella’s birthday. It was main thing keeping her going on our last call. In the event, she was not released. She was not even allowed to call.

Not that I was told at the time, but last Sunday Nazanin had actually been told that she was going to be released without charge. She was allowed to call her parents to announce the news that she would be home in time.

Hours later her family received a call to say there was a change of plan - she was to be transferred. This was the second time she has been asked to telephone her parents to announce her release, only to be then taken somewhere else. Both times it is not clear whether this was a conspicuous cruelty, or the result of infighting from rival factions keeping her as a pawn.

Either way there was no contact with her family for over a week. Following explicit threats, the family did not tell me for a few days. I found out just before going on TV. So when we had the party no one knew where she was, only that she had left Kerman prison, since her cellmates had called. No contact usually means back in solitary – with all that it did to her last time.

So again we were living on eggshells. The same Sunday there was also an Irish-Canadian woman taken, Homa Hoodfar. Since March she is the third woman with European citizenship taken while visiting her relatives. Among dual nationals, it has only been women on family visits recently.

Homa’s family made contact following our party, and we met yesterday. It is not clear how long the Iranian (or British) government will allow this to continue, allow its own citizens to be treated in this way. But however long, there is strength in togetherness in the journey ahead.

For us at least, there is again hope. Yesterday Nazanin called her parents – the power of the birthday coverage and all your cards and prayers.

She has been moved to Evin prison. If you google it, Evin Prison will not seem a great place to be. But it is in Tehran, which makes it possible at least for regular family visits for her and Gabriella.

In the world we now live in, that really could be a happy cake.

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