Petition update

Day 185 #FreeNazanin – Days and Dreams

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Oct 5, 2016 — Apologies for the long silence. There is a busy few weeks to catch up on - with lobbying and the media, here and at the UN, with happy news of the release of Homa Hoodfar whose case went alongside Nazanin’s, and this week we passed 6 months. Much to say, but I wanted this update to be about Nazanin.

Three weeks ago Nazanin was allowed to call me to tell me that the Revolutionary Court had sentenced her to 5 years imprisonment, for secret reasons. That was some change from the earlier promise of a release without charge.

For me, the instant reaction was disbelief – How can you have a sentence without a crime? It is nonsense, the strangest politics to convict someone without saying why. Why make your court system look so arbitrary? Why time it the day after the UK appointed its Ambassador? It seemed like Nazanin was sentenced not for what she has done, but for what she represents.

Among her family in Iran, the news had devastating effect. There is a particular Iranian way of grieving – deeply physical, expressive and traumatic. Even Gabriella was not able to calm them. It was a number of days before her mother could eat.

For me, it was only in the quietness after the media when my feelings began to catch up and confront that perhaps they really do mean to sentence her for 5 years? Just to assert their power. And to reflect on what Nazanin said.

Calls with Nazanin can be an unsettling experience. Recent calls have been allowed to give me bad news, to ensure bad news is announced. But I also get to hear her voice. They are my window onto her world.

Earlier calls had a feeling is of a desolate sadness, emptied of hope. With active interrogation in the background, it is the powerlessness, the incommunicable waiting to get her life back that I hear. She is still kept by the Revolutionary Guard, illegally still not yet transferred to the general cells. There is little she can control, little way to express her frustration.

She said that each morning she hated waking up. In her dreams she is with Gabriella. “She is in my dreams every night. When I wake up I remember where I am. I miss her all the time. I have missed over a fifth of her life. Do you understand what it is like to be a mother kept away from her child? What does that do to her?”

“Five years is ridiculous. For what? It is 4 months since you began negotiations, over a month since Theresa May raised the case with President Rouhani. Nothing is happening. I am sick of being used in these negotiations.” The anger is a good sign.

One day Nazanin will be able to tell her story. But mostly Nazanin’s voice is through her husband outside, her lawyer and father there – through the prisms of our understandings, limited by what can be said over censored phones.

My instincts here are to fight for Nazanin: it is nonsense, the UK government should be doing more, that ‘Hold women and children for political ransom’ is not a commandment anywhere in the Quran. There is a danger that my voice gets changed through the refractions of the media in this campaigning.

But there is danger also in me speaking for Nazanin.

Various people are talking for Nazanin these days. But also talking through her - sentencing her as a way of pressuring the UK, playing Iranian politics. The Revolutionary Guard are using her to sing its song. They are using her (and me) to speak. She remains their tool, as much as their asset.

One of Nazanin’s favourite songs is Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing me Softly’. It has a new meaning for us these days.

At the last family visit. Nazanin was allowed to draw Gabriella the picture above – of her together with her mummy and daddy. Her message to Gabriella and me.

The picture was disconcerting for me - not normally how I see Nazanin, or how I would have expected her cuddling Gabriella. Even in Iran it is strange for a mother to have to wear a veil whenever she sees her young child, since the point of the veil in Islam is to limit intimacy. It is not something for family spaces. For small children it normally means mummy is going outside. Not here.

But Nazanin’s voice in the picture is simple. Away from the political veils and shadowy messages: there is a mummy who has been separated from her family long enough. ‘Going home time’, as Gabriella would say.

And there is a mummy who is saying to her daughter that she will be there for her again. The keenest cruelty is that Gabriella cannot reach out to Nazanin when she needs her, when she calls out in the night as she does still, or when someone else telephones, and she rushes to speak to mummy. That must change.

Amongst my thousands of words – Nazanin’s picture succinctly draws the same dream, of us together. That is her song. It will not be killed.

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