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Day 2,031 #FreeNazanin – Hungry for Justice Still

Richard Ratcliffe
London, United Kingdom

Oct 24, 2021 — 

We are beginning a hunger strike today. This time by the Foreign Office and Downing St.

It comes in response to Nazanin’s latest conviction. Her lawyer was informed by phone her appeal was rejected, without the inconvenience of a court hearing. Next call was the summons back to prison.

I asked the Foreign Secretary what the government’s response would be. The answer was nothing yet. She shared how angry she was, how she would speak with the Iranian Minister. But it was not a trigger point to act. That would be when Nazanin was returned to prison.

The decision was perhaps predictable – the ambiguity of this summer’s promises had been threatening to break. But it still shook us, the shock gave way to anger – and then sadness at what it portends.

For us, reimprisonment is too late, it would mean not seeing Nazanin until 2023.

Just prior to the news, we had a very bleak meeting with the Foreign Office, ending with me telling them I had no confidence in their strategy and their reluctance to act: They still do not settle the debt to Iran whose impasse in 2016 caused Nazanin to be taken. There is no legal impediment now, the Minister said.  

But also they do nothing to disincentivise Iran’s hostage taking, still refuse to use the word ‘hostage’ despite promises to Nazanin. They still seem surprised each time Iran escalates – but it still happens cost free. They still say the same slogans. At some point, soundbites don’t protect you.

In the background, the Government has linked Nazanin’s fate to the revival of the JCPOA, and improved US-Iran relations. As these stalled, so have we. This summer suddenly the government started suggesting we liaise with the junior Minister rather than the new Foreign Secretary. Promises to discuss strategy suddenly disappeared. It seemed like a policy of managed waiting – and controlling the optics around the fallout coming our way.

It can be difficult to capture the feeling of a life wasting away, watching prison creep closer while we sit in the PM’s in-tray. Nazanin was increasingly distraught last week.

Two years ago I went on hunger strike in front of the Iranian Embassy, on the eve of Boris Johnson taking over as Prime Minister.  Two years ago we were allowed to camp in front of Iranian Embassy for 15 days – much to their considerable anger. But it got Gabriella home.

We are now giving the UK government the same treatment. In truth, I never expected to have to do a hunger strike twice. It is not a normal act. It seems extraordinary the need to adopt the same tactics to persuade government here, to cut through the accountability gap.

Of course Iran still remains the primary abuser in Nazanin’s case. But our family is caught in a dispute between two states. The UK is also letting us down. It is increasingly clear that Nazanin’s case could have been solved many months ago – but for other diplomatic agendas. The PM needs to take responsibility for that. Who does the government answer to for the choices it makes? Who takes responsibility?

These days government often only seems to deal with problems when they become crises. This week’s news meant we don’t just wait more years for the government to deliver. It meant either we move, or the crisis is made by Iran.

So today’s hunger strike has four demands for the PM:

1.       To recognise Nazanin and the others as hostages;

2.       To punish the perpetrators – through individual Magnitsky sanctions or taking Iran to court;

3.       To keep the PM’s promise from 2017 to settle the debt - it is hard to unpromise once the price is set; and

4.       To commit to pushing for an end to hostage-taking an explicit part of the JCPOA nuclear negotiations and a condition for the revived nuclear deal.

These are all things within the PM’s gift. They would all make British citizens in Iran safer.

This week I told the Foreign Secretary we would be escalating, and start with a vigil. I did not spell out it would be a hungry one. But she said that she would not stand in our way. She expressed scepticism over what an escalation would achieve. We only know if we try.

It is not clear how long it will last. But from supporters we are asking for three things:

First, to encourage anyone you can to sign the petition before we present it to the PM on Friday 29 October. We hope to get close to 4 million signatures.

Second, please encourage your MPs to come down in solidarity, and sign our visitors book.

Third, we are making a patchwork blanket over the course of the strike – with a mixture of drawn and sewn patches for each day Nazanin has been held. If you can decorate one, please send to Amnesty UK – so that we can sew them into a blanket of outside care.

In the final reckoning, Nazanin’s case is not a legal issue, it never was – the legal cases in the UK and Iran were long fig leaves for political games. At this point though it is not even a matter of politics, it is a matter of conscience. That is why we fast again.

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