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Day 149 #FreeNazanin – Rule of Punishment

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Aug 30, 2016 — Two weeks after the trial and we still have no charges. It remains a summer of waiting, watching a strange legal process.

It is perhaps less strange given how much of Nazanin’s treatment has been illegal under Iranian law:

Legally, Nazanin should have been charged within 48 hours, not 149 days and counting. She should have had access to a lawyer upon arrest, not meet him only once, two months after her interrogation was complete. With a lawyer Nazanin should have been able to challenge her detention while it was renewed every 10 days.

In practice, the rules can be broken – at the Guards’ discretion. Restrictions were going to apply in Iran’s new criminal code to prevent evidence collected illegally being admissable, but they were removed just before the law was passed.

So it is discretionary how you slip into the system, how long you sit without charges or trial. It is discretionary how much defence is allowed, and what if anything is written down. Bail can come even after the court case (not in our case). And they can decide whether any communication with your family is appropriate, whether your next of kin are even recognised.

This discretion is a political reminder of who has the power, who has the power to punish. The legal system is a vehicle for a politics of punishment – withdrawing rights for troublesome behaviour, denying family visits, not releasing someone as promised. It is punishment often presented as your own fault - because your family spoke out we are not releasing you, or your sentence will be longer. Rather than faith, people need to keep the fear.

It is a punishment centred on the secret interrogations. Nazanin would have been hooded and blindfolded, facing the wall. Two or three interrogators sit behind asking questions, voices from behind for days on end. The most powerful among them remain voices in the darkness. Real power remains unseen. Kept isolated in solitary confinement, kept in the same clothes, until the investigation is complete, this experience is what rendered Nazanin unable to walk.

It is hard to imagine this is how they would treat someone like Nazanin. The picture I chose is how she would prefer to be seen – enjoying the summer flowers, in the dress she made from Liberty fabric.

But the legal system is also about rewards. Rights are given as rewards: Nazanin was allowed family visits, or to call home for good behaviour. For reasons outside her, they can easily be withdrawn. Nazanin has seen Gabriella only once this month.

Even when rights are refused, this is presented as a reward. When Nazanin was being denied a lawyer, she was told it would save her money. When Nazanin was not transferred to the general cells following her indictment, she was being kept with the Revolutionary Guard out of concern for her health.

From the outside, these rewards and punishments make the Iranian legal system seems like a negotiated justice, a bazaar bargaining. Since Nazanin’s trial there has been a kind of family mediation between her male chaperones and the Judge, more legal action than ever during it. It is a negotiation with power unseen and the rules unclear. And it has an economy, with offers to solve your problem for a fixer’s fee, alongside plenty of warnings of those who run with the money.

But the reason we are waiting is because of other negotiations, because of a politics of assets bigger than our family.

Holding Nazanin as collateral is a negotiating tactic in some stand off between the UK and Iran – with the chess moves over Nazanin being released then taken to court, then tried but with charges they cannot explain. The actions of the legal system seem strange because they are an external communication, as much as about any rule of law or self-contained punishment.

This use of Nazanin seems removed from Iran’s roots – given its proud tradition of law. One of my first dates with Nazanin was being taken to the British Museum to see an ancient cylinder of human rights. Islam also sees itself as a religion of justice – would see it ‘haram’ to take away Gabriella from her father and mother.

But we wait because Nazanin has also become internal collateral. There are no charges, even after the trial, because once charged, Nazanin would be moved to the general cells from the Revolutionary Guards’ control. Once charged, they would lose their leverage. This is why Nazanin’s and Gabriella’s documents were kept by Kerman as their collateral when she was moved to Tehran. They are also holding out for their share of the spoils.

In the meantime, Nazanin is left waiting. We are all waiting for them to explain what’s going on, for their bargaining to tire, for them to acknowledge this is more than enough. Waiting for this year’s summer.

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