Activists in Tower Hamlets fighting for the release of a British-Iranian mother imprisoned in Iran joined a rally in central London last week to highlight her plight. The protest preceded the announcement in Iran on Sunday of new charges that could extend her current sentence from five years to 21 years.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a charity worker, was returning to the UK from Iran in April 2016 with her then 22-month-old daughter after visiting family members when she was imprisoned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, now 38, told family members she did not know what the charges she faced were, but an official statement in the Iranian media accused her of attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic as “one of the chief members of networks of adversary institutions, who — with the direction and support of foreign media and espionage services — has committed her criminal acts over the past few years”.
Her daughter Gabriella, now three, is under the care of grandparents in Iran, while her mother is held in the Evin prison where her physical and mental health are greatly deteriorating, Amnesty International says.
Amnesty are also campaigning of the release of Kamal Foroughi, 78, who was imprisoned in Tehran, Iran in 2011 and is currently serving an seven-year sentence for spying charges in Evin prison. He is the longest-serving British citizen imprisoned in Iran.
The UK Ambassador in Iran, Nicholas Hopton, recently demanded the release of Foroughi and Zaghari-Ratcliffe on humanitarian grounds in a carefully worded statement that recognised that Iran did not recognise dual citizenship.
Richard Ratcliffe, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband, said of this statement on the Free Nazanin Facebook page: “It’s a positive step that the UK ambassador to Iran has finally demanded Nazanin’s immediate release. However, the UK government should not accept Iran’s position that as a dual-Iranian national, this is purely a domestic matter. The only reason Nazanin has been imprisoned in Iran is because she is a British citizen and the UK must strongly and publicly defend her rights as one.”
Campaigners held a peaceful protest in Parliament Square on Wednesday, which was attended by Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s and Foroughi’s family members and supporters.
MPs were also present including Tulip Siddiq (Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s local MP), MP for Leeds North East Fabian Hamilton as well as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson. The British comedian Shappi Khorsandi was also in attendance.
Amnesty Tower Hamlets have criticised the UK government for their lack of action and involvement in the campaigns to release both Britons.
Siddiq is leading the parliamentary campaign for Nazanin’s release. In a statement following the latest charges brought against Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Siddiq said: “These developments are particularly cruel at a time when her family had increasingly hoped that she would be granted temporary release. With the possibility of 16 years being added to her sentence, it is high time the government intervened with tangible effect.
“There is a clear pattern of Iran treating British dual nationals in this way, and the Government’s soft-ball approach to the Iranian Authorities seems to be doing little to improve their plight.
“The Foreign Secretary must formally and unreservedly call for my constituent’s release, and must express his concerns at these developments with his counterpart in the Iranian Government.”
Daren Nair, Chair of the Amnesty International UK Tower Hamlets group, told EastLondonLines: “We want the British government to continue calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Kamal Foroughi by the Iranian authorities. Our government must do a lot better to bring Nazanin, her daughter, Gabriella as well as Kamal back home to the UK as their current approach is clearly not working.”
The group are scheduled to meet with the Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick on October 24.