When Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe ended her 15-day hunger strike a few days ago, medical staff noted that her skin had turned yellow, indicating problems with her kidneys.
Her husband Richard Ratcliffe provided the public face for his wife, as he spent over two weeks keeping vigil outside the Iranian Embassy in London, also refusing food.
A week prior to the hunger strike, Nazanin and Richard’s daughter Gabriella celebrated her fifth birthday in Tehran, her fourth separated from her parents. Gabriella currently lives with her grandparents, only seeing her mother infrequently and in prison, and her father just on Skype.
Nazanin and Richard’s demand was and is simple. Their calls for Nazanin’s immediate release have been echoed on several occasions by multiple human rights experts at the United Nations, at European Parliament, US Congress, Canadian Parliament, and by the UK Foreign Secretary, just to name a few.
At the heart of it, this is a mother who has now been unlawfully imprisoned for over three years following a secret and unfair trial in Iran. Nazanin has spent nearly nine months in solitary confinement, has been held in tiny cells without windows, natural air or light, and has regularly been denied access to crucial medical treatment. Her psychological health has declined considerably since her arrest, and she is suffering from significant neurological and other physical health issues.
The threat of a second trial remains very real, as Nazanin’s interrogators told her as they attempted to break her hunger strike last week. If a second trial were to go ahead, it would mean more pain, more time apart, more injustice.
The support behind Nazanin and Richard has been phenomenal. When Iranian Embassy staff placed metal barriers to separate themselves from Richard’s tent, he, his family and supporters turned it into a moving display of positivity and optimism. Hundreds of MPs wore Free Nazanin badges for last week’s Prime Ministers Questions. A Free Nazanin flag was flying at Glastonbury.
Having supported Nazanin and Richard since her arrest in 2016, I have always been struck by their joint strength, resilience and determination in the face of such injustice. At REDRESS, we work with survivors of torture to seek justice and reparation on a daily basis. It can be a slow process that can have a huge emotional toll on our clients and their families.
In March this year, the Foreign Secretary granted Nazanin diplomatic protection, something that Nazanin’s family and legal team, including REDRESS, had been requesting since November 2017. Diplomatic protection has elevated Nazanin’s situation to a formal inter-state dispute between Britain and Iran. It was a rare move by the UK, and unprecedented in asserting the human rights of its nationals abroad.
Now that diplomatic protection has been granted, the next steps to increase the pressure on Iran lie with the current foreign secretary and his successor. At REDRESS, we will continue our legal and advocacy work to engage with the UK government and to raise awareness of Nazanin’s case. It’s the least we can do for a family that have been separated for so long.
Josie Fathers is an Advocacy Officer at REDRESS, a human rights organisation acting as legal representatives for Nazanin and Richard Ratcliffe. REDRESS is currently raising funds to continue their work on Nazanin’s case and cases like hers. You can follow Josie on Twitter @JosieFathers