We come together in advocacy for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to return to the UK

by Viviana Biasco

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s daughter, Gabriella, outside the Iranian Embassy in London last week Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA on The Times 

Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe? 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a dual British and Iranian citizen, who, prior to her arrest, lived in London alongside her husband, Richard Radcliffe, and daughter Gabriella. She worked as a project manager for the charity Thomson Reuters Foundation, and flew out to Iran with her daughter in March 2016 to visit her parents.  

What has she been accused of? 

During her visit in Iran in March 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested on allegations that she was “plotting to topple” the government in Tehran, however, she has always denied this. From the beginning of her arrest, her workplace in the UK has stated that she was not working in Iran, but simply there on holiday.  

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has called for her permanent release so that she will be able to return home in the UK, where her husband and daughter are waiting.  

What has been the UK government’s reaction? 

In October 2019, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, stated that the government would “redouble” its attempts to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release after her daughter Gabriella returned to the UK. A month prior, prime minister Boris Johnson called for Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s immediate release during a meeting with Iran President Hassan Rouhani. 

Johnson has formerly been involved in the case, where in November 2017 he was made to apologise for suggesting that Zaghari-Ratcliffe had been training journalists during the time of her arrest, rather than being in Iran simply on holiday. The following month, Johnson visited Tehran to meet with President Rouhani, and pressed for her release on humanitarian grounds. 

In March 2019, then-Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, declared that Zaghari-Ratcliffe would be given diplomatic protection from the UK - making the case a legal dispute between Britain and Iran. 

How has she been treated in custody: 

Human rights charity, Redress, conducted a virtual medical evaluation whilst Zaghari-Ratcliffe was put under house arrest. The report noted that during the start of her sentence she was interrogated daily for 8 to 9 hours, often whilst being blindfolded, and placed under solitary confinement.  

“The interrogations were traumatising,” Zaghari-Ratcliffe is quoted as saying in the report. 

“They were threatening to send my child away, told me my husband was a spy, that he had already left me, that he was lying to me, that he worked for the British intelligence service.”  

“They said he was unfaithful, they said he was not an accountant and that he had always been lying to me. They told me I had been fired from my job.” 

In regard to her time in solitary confinement, she went on to state that she was placed in a cell no bigger than 1.5 to 2- metre square. There were no windows, leading to a loss of the perception of time. As a result of the prolonged confinement in this tiny cell, the report notes that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has neurological and muscular-skeleton problems. 

The report also mentions instances of hair loss, and, at one point, her body being too frail to climb up the bunk in the woman’s ward- where she was held for most of her imprisonment.  She was also made to listen to a female guard talking loudly to her daughter whilst being separated from her.  On this matter, Zaghari-Ratcliffe mentioned that she “dreaded her shifts as I knew she would do that to torture me.” 

Due to the accumulation of these traumatic events, Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent a week in a psychiatric hospital, where she was accompanied by prison guards and chained to the bed by both her feet and hands.  

Dr Michele Heisler, medical director of Physicians for Human Rights, who was one of the doctors that conducted her evaluation, says that her attendance at the psychiatric hospital may have further damaged her physical state as it is “possible that the positions in which she was handcuffed for extended periods led to nerve and joint injury in her right hand.” 

During her examination, Zaghari-Ratcliffe went on to discuss the psychological trauma that she has experienced and stated that she had developed suicidal thoughts and suffered from extreme anxiety, where she would constantly be trembling and experience hot and cold flushes. Lumps in her breasts led to an increase in her anxiety due to fear of them possibly being cancerous.  

She is also noted to have developed OCD centred around cleaning, where her husband stated that this is a result to his wife’s loss of freedom and “need to try and control what you can, leading to a sort of obsessive control about certain things and having certain routines to cope with the other things you can’t control”. 

What is Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s current situation? 

Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s treatment, Redress says, clearly demonstrates acts of torture. There has been a lack of a legal process in the way her case has been carried out, where Zaghari-Ratcliffe has experienced nothing but constant psychological and physical trauma. 

Dr Michele Heisler stated that “her current situation continues the psychological torture. Although she has finished five years of being imprisoned, she faces ongoing threat and uncertainty”. Once she is safely retuned to the UK, she will have to undertake a long road to recovery, involving both medications and psychotherapy for her physical symptoms, as well as intense psychological assistance in response to the traumatic events experienced. 

Although Zaghari-Ratcliffe has experienced severe psychological and physical traumas, her main concern falls on her family where she states that “she knows that her suffering traumatises her parents and that her post-traumatic symptoms, like irritation and anger, harm her parents’ psychological health.” 

She also has a prevailing worry towards her daughter, expressing that “her absence might create serious traumatic problems in her daughter who is being forced to grow up without the presence of her caring mother.” Her imprisonment has also been a huge weight on her marriage, where her husband has been constantly fighting to gain freedom for his wife- causing him to also suffer from a huge deal of stress and sufferance.  

On March 14th, Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared, yet again, in another court trial in Iran. An expected verdict is to be released within seven working days from the date of the trial.  

According to her lawyer, her accusations stemmed from her involvement in a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy in London 12 years ago and giving an interview to the BBC Persian service.  

Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, referred to Iran’s actions as being “unacceptable and unjustifiable.” He stated that Iran has opted to continue with the second “wholly arbitrary” case, asserting that the Iranian government has “deliberately put her through a cruel and inhumane ordeal.” He added: “Nazanin must be allowed to return to her family in the UK without further delay. We continue to do all we can to support her.” 

What can we do to help? 

The next step for us to take is to wait for the verdict from Zagahri-Ratcliffe’s latest trial. In the meantime, we can still stand in solidarity with her husband and daughter, to show the Iranian and British governments that we will not stand for this treatment, by signing the petition held by her husband. 

We must all come together to ensure that abuses like this are put to an end. Not only has Zagahri-Ratcliffe been detained on charges that she has not committed, but she been stripped from her human rights. She is an innocent British citizen who deserves to return home in the UK, where her husband and daughter are waiting.  

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