Earlier this week, in the midst of a dramatic spike of coronavirus cases in Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian mother, was temporarily released from prison along with thousands of other prisoners.
Nazanin’s release from the notorious Evin prison, where she has been held since 2016, was a relief. Several cases of coronavirus have been reported in the overcrowded prison, and Nazanin had complained of symptoms consistent with those caused by the virus. But the authorities had refused to test her, despite her fragile health. At least now Nazanin will be allowed to be with her parents rather than in jail at this time of terrible uncertainty.
Nazanin was granted a two-week temporary release until 4 April, four years and one day after she was arrested with her 22-month old Gabriella as they were about to board a plane at Tehran airport. She has been required to wear an ankle tag during the furlough and her movements will be restricted to 300 metres from her parents’ home in Tehran, making her release more akin to house arrest.
After her release on Tuesday, the first thing that Nazanin wanted to do was speak to Gabriella after school.
On Sunday, Nazanin will spend another Mother’s Day away from her husband Richard and five-year-old daughter Gabriella, who now lives in London with her father. Last October the couple took the heart-breaking decision to send their daughter back to London to start school. This will be yet another family occasion that the family will have to mark apart. Richard spent last Father’s Day outside the Iranian embassy in London on hunger strike to demand Nazanin’s release, while his wife was herself on hunger strike in Evin prison.
After her release on Tuesday, the first thing that Nazanin wanted to do was speak to Gabriella after school. Gabriella showed Nazanin her dolls and her bedroom in London, with her new big girl’s bed. But the call was a bittersweet one, as Gabriella questioned why Nazanin had gone to stay with her grandparents and had not come home to her and her dad in London.
Despite her temporary release, Nazanin’s case is as urgent as ever. This injustice has gone for too long. Nazanin’s health has deteriorated significantly since her arrest, and she is suffering from significant mental and other physical health issues, after having been held in precarious conditions that amount to torture under international law.
A previous three-day furlough granted to her in 2018 was so traumatic that Nazanin said that she preferred not to be temporarily released again. Not surprisingly, her family is extremely concerned about the impact that the psychological blow of returning to prison may have on her now.
Nazanin has been kept in inhumane conditions of detention for almost four years on unspecified charges, following a secret and unfair trial in 2016. She must be released immediately as there is no legal basis for her continued imprisonment. These calls from her family have been echoed by multiple human rights experts at the United Nations, who have described her case as a ‘mockery of justice’, the UK foreign secretary, the European parliament and many other bodies.
Recent threats such as the coronavirus outbreak shows that there is no time to wait. Swift action is necessary to prevent further risk to Nazanin and to ensure that she does not return to prison, but home to her family, where she belongs.
Eva Sanchis is Head of Communications at REDRESS, a human rights organisation acting as legal representatives for Nazanin and Richard Ratcliffe. REDRESS is currently raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign ’Help Bring Nazanin home’ to continue their work on Nazanin’s case and cases like hers.