Petition update

Day 424 #FreeNazanin - Votes and Voices

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

May 31, 2017 — I can confirm today that Nazanin has been denied her right to vote in the UK general elections. We tried to get the form for her to sign for a postal vote or vote by proxy a number of times. This was stopped by the Guard, by the Prison Manager, and the Prosecutors Office.

The British Embassy had promised Nazanin’s family they would encourage the Iranian authorities to allow her to vote in the UK elections, but did not manage to speak to anyone to secure it before the deadline passed.

Since she cannot vote, we are asking below those supporters who have a vote to consider what Nazanin’s story means for holders of a British passport - when they discuss programmes with their candidates and cast their vote for the Parliament ahead.

The denial of Nazanin’s vote is the latest in a long line of abuses of Nazanin’s fundamental rights, silencing her over the past 400 days. Nazanin was not allowed to speak at her trial. She was not given a copy of the charges against her – last week her family was told by the Prosecutors Office it is against the law for her to have them.

The silencing continues. Unlike the other prisoners, Nazanin has to prearrange any phone calls, so all her communications can be monitored. Her family still has to pay the prison to hold her – to send money to pay for her food, to pay the bills for any medical care required from imprisonment. Seemingly a share of her lawyer’s fees had to be paid on to the judge. Prison is designed to be an expensive business.

We have again asked the government here to speak out, as have Nazanin’s family in Iran – to make it clear that it is not acceptable to treat a British citizen in this way.

In fact since Nazanin was taken, there have been diplomatic improvements. We have upgraded our Ambassador, organised numerous government and business delegations. This activity has not led to her release. Instead Nazanin has been subjected to three court sentences, seven months of solitary confinement, one hunger strike, suicidal feelings, and two recommendations denied for urgent hospital admission. Still no one from the Embassy has even been allowed to visit her after 424 days.

In response, UK politicians have raised expressions of concern, as part of their routine encounters with Iran.

But the Iranian authorities have not been criticised: The Iranian government pretends she is a criminal – in the Iranian media, even presented that way by the Iranian Embassy here. She is a criminal for working for Reuters and the BBC in London, administering charity projects that train journalists around the world. Even if she doesn’t work on Iran and hasn’t for years, but was simply visiting her family on holiday with a toddler. She was not arrested for what she was doing but for “membership of organisations,” for being an employee or ex-employee of Reuters and the BBC, for the idea someone like her might do something.

The criminal charges are a self-serving fabrication. Nazanin is part of a wave of foreigners taken to scare those at home, and fearing to preserve certain people’s powers. Nazanin is held hostage by hardline factions, as collateral for their interests and future deals. In her detention, the boundary between politics and economics seems pretty thin.

This situation has not been enough to provoke a diplomatic incident. The UK government has stressed Nazanin’s humanitarian situation – that she remains in poor health, and with a young child denied her parents, and encouraged us to call for humanitarian relief. It shows a reluctance to debate her treatment or criticise. The government will tell you that criticising her treatment would make it worse for Nazanin.

I don’t buy it. Not after over a year. As another birthday approaches for Gabriella apart from her parents, it beggars belief that the full weight of a government priority would not have been able to get them home.

We didn’t sit quietly when people were taken in 2009. I don’t see the evidence for doing it now. Not when silence can mask nothing happening. Only raising concerns looks more like managing a situation, words not action, as my in-laws observe. The UK seems a fearful diplomacy. There should be less fear, and more protection – true for the world at large.

The government’s refusal to call for her release or say she is innocent has implications. Silence can seem like tacit support, the thin line between quietness and quiescence. Nazanin is held by an abusive legal system on trumped up charges, kept secret with signals for a diplomatic deal. All this the government knows, though it keeps saying the legal position is not clear. Yet it is clear that Nazanin’s rights are being abused. They have a legal opinion from the experts at the UN, ruling her detention as arbitrary, demanding her immediate release.

When the government responds to Amnesty and others that she is a convicted criminal in Iran, it leaves people wondering - perhaps the UK also regards Nazanin as guilty, only entitled to humanitarian relief. The government should make clear she is not a criminal, and should not be treated like one. Nazanin is not simply a humanitarian case. Whatever the politics or economics, legally her case is a gross miscarriage of justice.

When something is important, you make it clear. Even when dealing with the paranoid, it is better to say it straight. It is not in Nazanin’s interests to keep quiet about that injustice. It protects Nazanin to stand up for her. It weakens her not to provide her with diplomatic protection, even if it favours other policy agendas, like post-Brexit business deals.

Nazanin is a citizen of somewhere, and that somewhere is Britain. There has been much talk with Brexit about having a new British passport, about what colour it should be. But it is not the colour that keeps us safe. What matters more is what the passport says about protection on the inside page:
“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
If the government is not providing diplomatic protection to Nazanin, will it do so for other families? Such protection should not be discretionary.

In the silence, it is easy to feel forgotten, to feel like this is an injustice unending. Nazanin always asks – why are we going through this – why the separation from Gabriella – this is what she said in our last communication:
“I am broken for not having her with me. I cannot take it anymore. I want to be home with her for her third birthday. When I think like this and I realise I can’t do anything about it, I sob every night, every day. She keeps asking me why I can’t go to Manamy’s house with her now. I have no answer to it.”

Nazanin’s voice remains silenced in her vote denied.

Nazanin’s story has provoked a realisation – British citizens’ rights need better protection. Our story is particular, but it is a potential canary for a wider story ahead, which this election, this Brexit is about. Not the colour of our passports, but what’s on the inside page - how we protect our citizens as we make our way to a new place in the world. Governments are defined by how they look after their citizens, here just as in Iran. But if we can’t speak up for an imprisoned mum and her baby – out of fear of offending and hoping for business - what kind of a country will Britain become?

So tomorrow we are doing a Facebook Live event with Change.org and Redress, alongside the families of other UK prisoners held in unfair legal systems, talking about UK current protection, and how it needs to improve in the coming years. Seen here: https://www.facebook.com/Change.orgUK/

Also we are calling on all party leaders – tonight #BBCDebate and for the rest of the campaign – to do three things:

First, to speak up for Nazanin in the face of her silencing - to make clear she should not be treated like a criminal, and if not explain why they regard her treatment to be acceptable;

Second, to speak up for human rights in their foreign policy – including the human rights of British citizens held unfairly abroad - so they are not relegated below other foreign policy issues, like business deals; and

Third, to make clear what they will do (whether their party is in power or not) in the next Parliament to strengthen diplomatic protection, so that it is fit (in capacity and law) to protect British citizens’ rights.

And finally we are you asking you as supporters to consider what Nazanin represents for your families in Brexit Britain, but particularly to ask your own candidates:
• Whether your candidates will push their party to publicly call for Nazanin’s release?
• How will their party stand up for Britons arbitrarily held abroad if elected?
• What will their party do to improve diplomatic protections for British citizens to fit the country’s new place in the world?

Turbulent times often lead to a politics of fear. What we need is a politics of protection


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