Calls to ‘Free Nazanin’ increase after Iran releases jailed British national’s daughter

With the return of British National Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe’s daughter to the U.K. yesterday, the hashtag  began trending on Twitter.

Nazanin Zagari-Ratcliffe has been held in Iran on trumped-up charges since 2016 when she was arrested after visiting family with her then two-year-old daughter.

Nazanin’s daughter Gabriella was left stranded in Iran with her grandparents and separated from her British father until now, as the Iranian authorities also confiscated the child’s passport and refused to grant her father a visa to come and retrieve her.

Nazanin was originally held in solitary confinement for 83 days before being charged with sedition and “fomenting a soft overthrow” of the Iranian government.

According to the Iranian authorities, she helped design a website related to the 2009 protests, when thousands of Iranians protested what they believed to be the rigging of an election, using Twitter and other internet-based services to coordinate their actions.

Nazanin’s husband claims the U.K. Foreign Office was downright unhelpful until he went public with the case, seeming to prioritize trade over his wife.

Initially sentenced to five years, Nazanin was on the verge of early release after eighteen months when new charges were raised, including “membership of an illegal group,” due to her work with BBC Media Action. The Iranian government considers the BBC to be a tool of British espionage.

The BBC went on record saying Nazanin had merely worked as an administrative assistant during her time with the company. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson—who was foreign secretary at the time—incorrectly described Nazanin as having trained journalists in Iran, which the Iranian authorities took as proof of her guilt.

Despite finally being given diplomatic protection by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2019, Iran refused to recognize this and release her.

But with Iran no longer obstructing Gabriella’s return to the U.K., Nazanin and her husband decided that the now five-year-old should go live there with her father to start schooling.

Due to spending the last three years with her maternal grandparents in Iran, Gabriella now predominantly speaks Farsi with very little English.

With very real concerns for Nazanin’s psychological and physical wellbeing now that she can’t see her daughter anymore during what scant visiting time was allowed, Nazanin’s husband Richard and their supporters are making a renewed call for her release.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and current incumbent Dominic Raab have also called for her to be freed.

Nazanin is not the only Iranian dual national imprisoned over dubious charges, with many British-Iranian citizens also jailed over the last few years.

Though both the British and Iranian governments officially deny it, many consider these prisoners to be hostages held over the £400 million debt the British government owes Iran, and today MP Tulip Sadique, who represents Nazanin and Richard, revealed that the Iranian authorities told Nazanin and her family that this is the real reason behind her imprisonment.

Richard Ratcliffe is currently pushing for a meeting with Boris Johnson to discuss Johnson working for Nazanin’s release.

Johnson has yet to respond.

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Siobhan Ball

Siobhan Ball

Siobhan Ball is a historian, archivist, and journalist. She also writes for Autostraddle and bi.org