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Day 500 #FreeNazanin – Please Look After

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Aug 16, 2017 — Last week the UK Minister went to Iran to mark President Rouhani’s inauguration and hope for a new era.

He also met Nazanin’s family and Gabriella, a personal contact, as well as a positive diplomatic signal.

He brought some presents for Gabriella, a Paddington Bear (pictured), and also some books. Paddington is one of Gabriella’s favourites – less the adventures in a faraway place, more she likes his red boots. She proudly took Paddington into prison to look after in front of her mum.

For an Iranian family it had some trepidation. It was a chance to make sure the Minister understood the situation: that being in solitary confinement for 9 months has affected her health, the separation from her baby and husband, the fact the Iranian government keep promising her freedom, but it is like she is stuck alone on an island.

The Minister reassured them that Nazanin was one of his top priorities, that he has her picture on his desk. Close up they could feel the care.

The Minister asked what he can do in Iran – who is the most important person to meet? Straight after the Minister did indeed have a meeting with Iran’s Foreign Minister. He said he explained how he was a grandfather, that there was the impact on a small child, and the Iranian Ministers listened.

Following the inauguration the Iranian press were full of reports: how he had come to raise the cases of British prisoners in Iran, mentioning Nazanin by name. The visit prompting Iran to think about Nazanin again.

It also prompted something else: Nazanin was suddenly moved back to high security. There she found her lead interrogator and the Deputy Prosecutor, and a table with fruit juice. They asked with confident authority: Have you been told - your husband is visiting with the minister? You did not know? Nazanin cried at the surprise, fearful her husband would be in trouble.

They waited for two hours, the men pacing the room. But no one came. People were sent to check the different gates. They started calling, but no one picked up – her dad, eventually others in the family answered, who panicked and called me - was I secretly in Iran? I was in Café Nero I clarified.

In the confusion, there was a lightbulb: it is arbitrary, even for them.

I want to go home, she said, because of my child. You have to give me amnesty. There is pressure on your case, she was told. Of course there is, the world is looking at you with shock. How can you separate a mother and a baby like this?

They said: you keep writing letters asking for forgiveness, but you don’t confess to a crime. That’s because I haven’t committed a crime. I have always been open with you. But even if I am held for 5 years, I will not say something that is not true. I just came to see my family.

I love my country, I would not do anything against it – why would I bring my baby if I wanted to overthrow it? And then Nazanin cried.

In silent acknowledgement, they hung their heads. They are the ones who have made many promises to Nazanin, who now have to look her in the eye. They face the human consequences of the upstairs bargaining, and square it with the Islamic justice they signed up for. They have no explanation for why it has lasted so long. None of them expected it.

Do you curse us for what has happened? I often think about your children. How would you feel if they were denied their mother and father? You do not even grant me temporary furlough for a few days. You don’t need temporary, she was told, you need to be released.

Then there was a phone call from the Prosecutor. The Foreign Ministry had cancelled the meeting.

Back in the cells Nazanin was initially upbeat. Even the cancelled visit showed factions coordinating. Some Iranian press reported Nazanin had met the Minister, others more accurately he had met her family. The MFA Spokesperson took a question on negotiations for Nazanin. He clarified there are no plans for a prisoner exchange.

But there was a double take. Events in Evin often come twice, absorbed at high and low tides. The day’s outburst was replaced by late night fears: the old echoes from a daytrip to solitary, the new worries of what else might happen to her family.

Reflection gave way to a damburst of grieving: Being moved, she had felt suddenly close to freedom. She had secretly been hoping before the Minister’s visit she might be on the same plane. She had expected too much, she said after. Her home remains a broken castle.

It remains hard to know what’s going on in Iran from the outside, a solipsism of competing agendas. From the inside also, it seems a confusion that everyone is wrapped up in - a play of shadows in more ways than one> There is lots of fragility on display – ours, as well as the authorities involved.

Amongst it all, we keep reminding – she is not alone, even in darkest Evin. There is another life waiting. That is the value of the Minister’s visit. That is what the campaign looks after – even as we reach 500 days.

To mark it (and other anniversaries), we are going to have a twitter storm today (16 August): 18.30 UK time, 22.00 Iran time, and 13.30 in the US (EST). Hashtags: #FreeNazaninNow and #500daysOfInjustice

And for those in Edinburgh, next week we have a play on Nazanin’s story at the Edinburgh fringe. See:

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