British mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe today celebrates her 40th birthday – behind bars in Iran.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe from Hampstead, North London, was arrested at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport in April 2016 and was later sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying, a charge she vehemently denies.
Today, she is scheduled to receive a family visit at the notorious Elvin prison, and is due to see her beloved four-year-old daughter Gabriella, who has promised to make her a birthday card.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, told HuffPost UK the milestone birthday has “loomed large for her in recent months - partly for the landmark of not wanting to turn 40 alone in a prison cell, still denied watching her baby grow up, but increasingly wondering whether they will keep her so long that she is also denied having a second child.”
Ratcliffe was able to speak to his wife on Christmas Day, reporting she sounded “flat”, but informing him that the women prisoners had held midnight Christmas prayers for the French and British prisoners, with some other religious minorities also joining.
Ratcliffe added: “This year is the third Christmas Nazanin is away from us. And it has been hard each year. In the build-up we were hoping it might be third time lucky, but again things feel to be blocked - if anything the blockages are clearer.
“She is still an innocent person held as leverage for almost 1,000 days, and our daughter has been denied both her parents. It is an outrage every day she is held. And while she is still in prison it is not enough.
“But I am grateful that the Foreign Secretary has made Nazanin’s case such a priority since he took office, and for the clarity with which he has stood up for Nazanin and the others being held.
“Hopefully we will not need to push for much longer, but we are preparing for a next phase.”
Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s director, said: “Her birthday will be yet another painful moment for Nazanin and her family.
“What should have been a day of celebration for Nazanin will once again be a day of anguish - her third birthday behind bars. Despite everything, we send Nazanin our warmest wishes.
“Nazanin is a prisoner of conscience who should never have been jailed in the first place.
“The UK government should continue to press for Nazanin’s release using every channel of communication available to it. Our supporters will continue to do likewise.
“Our present to Nazanin for her birthday is a simple one: it’s a promise that we’ll campaign for Nazanin’s freedom for as long as the family need us to.”
On Christmas Eve, Ratcliffe, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan called her incarceration a “travesty of justice”.
In a statement, the pair said: “Nazanin has been wrongly detained in an Iranian prison for over two years. She has done nothing wrong, has broken no laws. The charges against her are completely false.
“She is innocent and should not be kept in prison, separated for so long from her family and her young daughter.
“While she’s imprisoned, Nazanin continues to suffer both physically and mentally.
“We – and indeed the whole country – know what a travesty of justice it is that Nazanin continues to be detained.
“Her case, and also those of other dual-nationality prisoners being wrongly held in Iran, have rightly attracted global interest and deep concern.
“Sadly, Nazanin is not the only innocent Londoner to be incarcerated in Iran. There are cases of British citizens being arrested when simply visiting their families. They cannot be forgotten and the Government must relentlessly fight for their release too.
“London is home to a large Iranian community who make a valuable contribution to this great, diverse city. Together, we are united in calling on the Iranian authorities to release Nazanin immediately along with the others who are being wrongly detained, to allow them to return home and be reunited with their loved ones.
“We are grateful to the Foreign Secretary for prioritising her case and trying to secure her release. We are also grateful to Nazanin’s local MP, Tulip Siddiq, who has tirelessly campaigned for her constituent’s release.”