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Day 1,353 #FreeNazanin – A Yard of Sky

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Dec 16, 2019 — 

Tomorrow we sing #Stillnotforgotten Christmas carols in front of Downing Street from 17.30, and deliver a Christmas card to the new PM. Gabriella’s first campaigning. Anyone available will be very welcome. https://twitter.com/FreeNazanin/status/1204796198252695553

It is our fourth year singing, this year organised with the British Rights Abroad Group – to remind the new PM that there is a problem with the way the UK protects its citizens overseas, as he has direct experience. To remind him we are still here.

We sing amongst mixed news from Iran.

The recent protests in Iran resulted in hundreds losing their lives during an internet blackout, a new wave of people entering the women’s ward. New prisoners with updates from solitary of the foreign women held there, of attempted escapes onto the roof – protesting at not being allowed to call even their husband, shouting into the open sky.

But last week also there was unexpected good news. a US academic taken shortly after Nazanin, was suddenly released to his wife and young son after 3 years, the second US prisoner to return in recent months, following the release of a green card holder.

Like Nazanin, he had been taken as part of the new wave of IRGC hostage taking following the Iran nuclear deal. Like many others (though not Nazanin) he had initially had just his passport confiscated by the Iranian authorities prior to his arrest. When he had gone to the Embassy to claim protection, he had been told not to worry. Diplomatic reluctance to offend Iran in the early days of the nuclear deal came at a price for some families.

As families of the victims of Iran’s hostage industry, we have increasingly worked together. We have become a kind of self-help group keeping each other strong across the deflations, getting clearer in coordinated demands, realising that in the face of muted criticism by governments aware of the commercial possibilities of the nuclear deal, we need to lead the calls.

The week the news broke we were actually lobbying together in the US, for direct sanctions on the perpetrators of hostage taking. We will be back in the new year with a Magnitsky file. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/families-of-americans-imprisoned-in-iran-say-more-pressure-is-needed/2019/12/03/ec9da40e-15fd-11ea-8406-df3c54b3253e_story.html

In the US I was struck by the clarity in seeing the wrongness of hostage taking, and the obligation of government to protect. A US passport has a slightly different meaning, perhaps a residual sense that being American means being part of a new world: The US has a Presidential Envoy for Hostages, an acceptance of Government’s  responsibility. There is an acceptance that the Iranian regime is transactional, and of the need to call out hostage taking if it is to end.

Currently the UK is altogether more opaque – with a public policy of waiting for the hostage takers to do the right thing, a reluctance to acknowledge obligations. British foreign policy has often been associated with patrician playing fields, but it has a renewed patricianism as we look to host influence in today’s offshore world. It has a funny effect on British citizenship once you go overseas. It is why one of the other British families called for a UK Hostage Envoy. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/10/shelly-izadi-wife-of-man-anousheh-ashoori-jailed-in-iran-calls-for-special-uk-envoy-for-hostages

With hostage taking, as with alcoholism or any abusive dependency, the first step is recognising there is a problem. This is not helped by those who enable you to explain abuse away. As the protests show, the Iranian regime struggles with criticism. It tries hard not to hear, or to blame others. Does the Iranian government yet want to solve its hostage problem, which also grows internally as wealthy families from minorities are targeted?

On our soapbox, the sudden release gave a lift – that if the US can bring another of their hostages home – without diplomatic relations, having sanctioned Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Foreign Minister – then it brings hope to us all. It is a question of promises being prioritised.

In the US it was more disruptive. It can be hard when someone is released, particularly for those who have been left behind once before. It is a reminder for all that none of this is fair. There is no queue with hostage taking.

For those in Evin it can bring back the panic and the palpitations, full of fear at being left behind again, a long wondering at missed opportunities, or attempting to rationalise – perhaps somehow ‘dual nationals’ should come second.   

But each release also produces a new energy. There is an intensity in the campaigning of those just released. For those with direct experience of Evin, each and every day is one day too long for friends still there. It is time to #Freethemall.

This intensity comes harder for those of us who have been going so long. With our fourth Christmas approaching there can be a numbness of time. Time becomes a state that is – solid, unmoving, in order not to feel too much – the hope, or the unfairness.

But it is good to be shaken out of this sad solipsism, to be reminded to look up. Even if holding onto the horizon can sometimes become an act of imagination, it is still there unseen beyond the walls.

Nazanin wrote the poem below just before the release, sitting in that yard of hope, to remind herself that lives can move once more.

It is for that yard that tomorrow we sing. Thank you to anyone who can make it.

 

A Yard of Sky

Sometimes days can pass

Without me seeing the sky

Except that small piece with the lonely cloud

Brooding over the prison yard

Our view in this far off place

 

While elsewhere the trees bloom

And the sun dazzles

And the leaves fall

And the snows come again

In our yard of sky

Days do not differ

They do not pass, but repeat

As a mother alone

 

These days I am a lonely mother:

I bathed my baby in my tears of goodbye

My arms full of cuddles now ended,

With kisses of hope

For her return

On an adventure to be with her hero

Who she could only imagined for more than half her life

A reality now to mend.

 

I was left behind

With my repeating

While outside passes by and on

Tears my food, fears filling my mind

Solitude too often my friend, and doubt my relentless foe

What if they never let me go?

Laughter become my past, sorrow only my present

And hope on a horizon hard to see

 

Yesterday we sat in the yard

We welcomed the newcomers from solitary

And baked scones for breakfast

Which we ate with pistachio peel jam

Willing it to taste sweet

We showed them the yard of winter sun

Wishing it to be warm

 

I talked of the almond tree

In my grandparents’ village up in the hills.

It survives the wind and cold and storm

Then bears the most beautiful blossoms

And almonds so sweet in May

 

I talked of the almond tree we have at home

Now far away

I talked of being strong

To myself as well as to those listening

For when the seasons move again.

 

Freedom needs its faiths

That faith is our survival

Within these walls of recurring days

And absences

Across the swirling storms of Iran

That lonely days of separation will pass,

That the walls will fall

That beyond the pale sun

Injustice will become a shadow

And our trees of solitude will blossom again

In the sky beyond the yard.

 

One day we will sit on our own balcony

And see the sky open wide

Watching the seals in their sunbathing

A new breakfast of scones and jam

Understanding their sweetness anew

With the happiness in arms so long out stretching

And cuddles no longer missed

Now to fill a new life.

 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Evin Prison, Winter 2019

 


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