“We must ensure that Nazanin is free to return home before Christmas. The question is, how?”
Tulip Siddiq MP and actor Emma Thompson write for The Guardian:
Our children may be 15 years apart in age, but any mother will tell you that anxiety and paranoia about your child never stop. Even in the middle of filming a Hollywood movie or questioning the Prime Minister, in the back of our heads we’re wondering whether our daughters have worn their gloves on this cold day, or whether they have eaten a full meal at school.
That is one reason why the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – a British citizen who is imprisoned in Iran – resonates so strongly with us. It’s not just that she’s been imprisoned for 19 months on spurious charges, held in solitary confinement and denied medical access and legal advice. It’s also that she’s been separated from her three-year-old daughter, Gabriella, for more than a year and a half. That’s more than half of that little girl’s life.
Many will be familiar with Nazanin’s ordeal. She took her daughter to Iran on holiday so that Gabriella could see her grandparents and learn more about Iranian culture. On her way home, she was arrested at Imam Khomeini airport and subsequently charged with trying to overthrow the Iranian government. Her daughter has since lived with her grandparents, forgetting how to speak English and growing up affectionately calling her grandmother Mama – something that was once the privilege of Nazanin alone.
It took far too long for our government to officially call for her release on humanitarian grounds. It took far too long for our foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to meet Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband. The government’s relative inaction means that it took 19 months before the country woke up to the fact that a British citizen, a mother, was being unlawfully detained in Iran.
We’re writing this piece because we want to urge the government to dramatically step up its game. The primary purpose of any government is to protect their citizens at home or abroad. British lives must always come before party politics; we hope that the foreign secretary will make amends and live up to his promise to leave “no stone unturned” and ensure that Nazanin is free to return home before Christmas.
The question is, how?
Given that her captors have violated her rights under both international and Iranian law, the preferred route for the family is the exercise of diplomatic protection. This would elevate the case to an interstate dispute and could secure her release through a quick process of arbitration.
Some have expressed concern that such a step would constitute a dramatic escalation, but we believe that any concern over “hostile behavior” should lie with the Iranian authorities, which continue to hold an innocent mother. The United Nations has made it clear that Nazanin is being unlawfully detained, and that is the fundamental truth that must sit at the heart of a British fast-track strategy to bringing her home.
Others have suggested that Nazanin’s dual nationality would pose difficulties in pursuing such a route – especially as Iran does not recognise dual national status. But according to legal advice provided by the charity Redress to the Foreign Office, it is clear that the locus of Nazanin’s life is in West Hampstead and that any judgment would reasonably accept this to be true. She should therefore receive the treatment that any other Briton should expect.
Both of us are in high-intensity careers – there are times when we don’t see our daughters for days on end. But at least we know that when the filming period or the campaign ends, we’ll be reunited at home with our daughters making up for lost time.
Authorities in Iran have threatened to add an extra 16 years on to Nazanin’s sentence. If this were to go ahead, Gabriella would be 24 by the time she could be reunited with her mother. She will also continue to be separated from her father, who is highly unlikely to be given a visa by Iran. Johnson’s blunder no longer occupies the headlines, but we must not forget the continued reality of the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family, who remain torn apart through no fault of their own.