Petition update

Day 721 #FreeNazanin - #Choose Laughter

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Mar 24, 2018 — This week marked Nowruz – the new year holiday that took Nazanin to Iran. Next week will be 2 years. We have a light request.

In Iran this felt a glum Nowruz, a missed chance with the gathering grey clouds. Nowruz is a time people are released from prison in Iran. The past months we had many promises of parole and furlough (temporary release). A number of fellow prisoners in Nazanin’s ward were granted theirs.

Those left behind in prison marked Nowruz with a meal of trout, donated from outside. They cooked cakes for the young children kept in the next prison ward.

Nazanin had still been deep down hoping. Last week the Head of Evin Prison told Nazanin he approved her release months ago. A Judge also revealed she is still held for haggling over the interest rate on a UK government debt. Nazanin is not a normal prisoner, he said.

After some revelations Nazanin can be hard to reach, stuck in an inner Eeyore of morbid thoughts. She gets overwhelmed by anger – at those who took her and their inconsistent injustice, at those not moving to solve. She gets angry with herself, repeatedly remembering moments with Gabriella, when she was too sharp and cannot make amends. She gets angry with her cellmates, and their ability not to be angry. Again she is having nightmares where she is woken up by panic attacks.

The past two years have been a psychological squeezing. The longer it goes on, the more I realise the risk of enveloping glumness.

We decided that if we got to this anniversary still detained, we would need to choose laughter. We organised a (sold out) comedy event: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/one-night-of-freedom-comedy-in-solidarity-with-nazanin-zaghari-ratcliffe-tickets-43198087643

We also want your help.

This anniversary, we are asking our supporter community (and your children or grandchildren) to lift us through laughter and post on the petition:
• Your favourite jokes, or favourites of your children
• Share what makes you smile, particularly when feeling blue

We are collecting them here to do three things:

First, on 1 April (April Fools Day alongside Easter) ask you also to tweet and keep sharing on social media (ideally filming yourselves on your phone) along with the hashtags #ChooseLaughter and #Free2laugh

Second, on 2 April, we will hang the jokes received on the One Day Tree in our local park marking two years of Nazanin’s detention. We will tie them up with yellow ribbons, alongside painted stones from Mothers Day.

Third, we will take 365 of your jokes and daily prompts for smiles to make into a calendar for the year to come. We will send copies to the prisoners’ families. It will fundraise for organisations who have supported us. Nazanin and the women wanted to help protect others who might come next.

We are collecting jokes from celebrities and politicians, but also from detainees and their families, and from all our supporters. All of us can give each other reasons to smile.

Laughter matters in the ward. The women sit together some evenings telling each other funny stories, doing impressions of the guards and each other, remembering stories from former cellmates.

It is a way of surviving - not waving, but clowning - particularly in the moments when people are taken to court jokes help release the fear, to physically lose themselves in laughter, and relieve the tension. The most beloved prisoners, most missed when transferred away, are those whose laughter is infectious, even when they are in pain.

In Evin laughter is also a freedom. Impromptu moments of irreverence, fun at pompous power are a way to elude the prison’s definitions offstage, a way to level them. The Guards never joke with the prisoners. If the women get exuberant late at night, they demand: “What is going on? Why do you laugh? No one has been freed, it is not a special occasion.”

“It annoys them, when we ignore it. They have done what they can to ruin our lives. They have pushed us here. But they don’t get to control when we are happy.”

But most of all laughter is an antidote to isolation. When Nazanin first left solitary it took her time to laugh again: Imagination in solitary takes you in untethered directions, hypersensitive, but also hyper tense. You can be sad alone, but not really laugh. Laughter is always a together thing.

And that is what the outside can do when people ask what helps. You can show her she’s not alone - by sharing what makes you smile. Even on the outside, to smile is a first need. It was the first thing Gabriella could do as she learned to interact with the world. Still these days Gabriella walks cheerfully across the face of the visiting room, answering the smile in everyone.

This anniversary is hard, but I hope also it can be a reminder of a different space – that beyond the grey walls, there is a world of colour to share, still answering that need to smile.

This Nowruz, this April Fools, alongside your Easter prayers – please lend us your jokes. So that we all choose laughter. So we keep looking up at the stars.


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