It feels surreal to have Nazanin home – it’s now my mission to make sure this never happens again
On the school run last week, a Camden parking officer momentarily looked up from writing a parking ticket and shouted out “glad she’s home”, before going straight back to charging someone £60.
When I returned home, I checked my inbox and there was an email from an extremely famous actress asking for Nazanin’s contact details because they wanted to send a message welcoming my constituent home. While reading the email, I mused on how far-reaching the campaign to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been.
In the eight Urgent Questions and countless debates I led in Parliament during six years of campaigning, Nazanin always had support from MPs of all political backgrounds. Part of the reason for this cross-party interest stemmed from the fact that, on a human level, the case was a tragedy.
She will have to deal with the emotional and psychological distress that the years of captivity caused for the rest of her life
An innocent mother was forcibly separated from her family and life in London, all whilst being subjected to solitary confinement and successive medical traumas without treatment. It became a case of global renown, due to both the cruelty of the Iranian regime and the failures of Britain’s diplomatic approach in trying to secure her release.
As the world knows, Nazanin is now back in West Hampstead and has been reunited with her husband Richard and daughter Gabriella. However, she will have to deal with the emotional and psychological distress that her ordeal and the years of captivity caused for the rest of her life.
Nazanin spent nine months in solitary confinement, subjected to sleep deprivation and often blindfolded and handcuffed for days. There were periods where she was interrogated daily for hours on end, and the guards outside her cell door would purposely call their children on loudspeaker while Nazanin cried for her own daughter.
Over the course of her imprisonment in Iran, Nazanin’s health deteriorated substantially. Yet she was repeatedly denied appropriate medical treatment, including when she found lumps in her breast. She was also refused a Covid-19 test when she started showing symptoms in Evin prison, where there had been an outbreak of coronavirus in 2020.
Even when she was on furlough at her parents’ house in Tehran, Nazanin was harassed with threatening calls from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. She was warned that she was being watched and told not to visit certain shops because the food might be poisoned. Nazanin’s father was even warned that there was a risk of a road accident if he did not keep an eye on her and told him that his daughter was safer in prison.
The UK’s Ambassador to Iran told the Zaghari-Ratcliffe family in January 2020 that there were more British citizens in Nazanin’s position than those of any other Western country, including 69-year-old Anoosheh Ashoori who returned home with Nazanin. Morad Tahbaz, who was born in the UK and has lived in Hampstead in my constituency, was left behind.
I know that the Foreign Office cannot reasonably be held responsible for the arbitrary detention of its nationals abroad, but it also cannot escape scrutiny and challenge for its clear shortcomings in trying to secure their release – particularly from Iran.
Other countries including Australia, France, Germany, Canada and the US have had greater success in securing the fair treatment and release of prisoners held for leverage on false charges.
These are some of the reasons why I feel I owe it to Nazanin to push for an inquiry into the handling of her case. That’s why I’ve written to the Foreign Affairs Committee asking them to get to the bottom of why it took so long to get my constituent home and why the UK government seems unable to successfully tackle Iran’s hostage-taking.
It feels surreal to have my constituent home after six years of campaigning, but now my mission is to ensure that this never happens again.
Tulip Siddiq is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.
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