Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's freedom after six-year detention in Iran is a story of love, hunger strikes and determination – Christine Jardine MP

Every morning in Westminster, there is a little blue cardboard flower which looks at me plaintively from the corner of my mirror.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe makes pizza with her seven-year-old daughter Gabriella (Picture: PA)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe makes pizza with her seven-year-old daughter Gabriella (Picture: PA)

It has been a daily reminder of an injustice that we, as elected representatives, needed to address. It was given to me outside the Iranian embassy in 2019 by Richard Ratcliffe. It bears the logo #FreeNazanin.

On Thursday morning, for the first time, it made me smile. Nazanin had arrived home to Richard and their daughter during the night.

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For the previous day, the country had held its collective breath over whether there could indeed be a happy ending, a moment of joy, in a story that has caused so much frustration and pain for six years.

The moment we heard that she was free is one of those which, I am sure, will live long in our memories.

I was on the radio when I was interrupted to report the newsflash from Reuters that Nazanin had been given her passport and would be allowed to travel home.

The few moments it then took to explain the update and background gave me the time I needed to pull myself together and stifle the tears.

My thoughts immediately went to Richard, their daughter, her family who have been through so much, and then Tulip Siddiq, their MP who has fought tirelessly to keep Nazanin’s plight at the forefront of our consciousness.

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Westminster was briefly lit up that day by the unexpected happiness amidst the accumulated misery heaped on us all by consecutive crises since 2016.

And it provided a timely reminder that we should never lose sight of how often innocent individuals find themselves a pawn in global disputes.

Nazanin’s release brought back memories for me of hearing that journalist John McCarthy would be coming home after more than five years as a hostage in Lebanon. Or that the Church of England envoy Terry Waite, who had been held after originally going to Beirut to try to secure McCarthy’s freedom, was on his way home.

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In each case, the combination of their loved ones and families’ determination and the support of the public was crucial in maintaining pressure on the government to secure their release.

When I was elected in 2017, Nazanin, an aid worker, had already been detained in Iran for more than a year.

And although I knew little of her story then, I became rapidly and increasingly aware as her husband and family made sure that both Nazanin herself, and the issue which was central to her detention, were consistently highlighted.

It had been on April 3, nearly six years ago, that she was accused of plotting against the Iranian government, and detained.

She was in reality only doing something we have all done, or hope to do, when she chose to spend time with her child and her parents in Iran. Be with family.

The timeline from that day reads more like a film script rather than a life lived.

On July 12, 2016, her husband delivered letters to Downing Street on his wife’s 100th day in custody; then on September 9 of that year he reported that Nazanin had been jailed for five years.

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A year after she was detained came the news that she had lost the final stage of her appeal against the sentence.

In August 2018, it seemed there might be a breakthrough when she was given temporary release from prison for three days.

At that point, her husband Richard said it felt like “home is one step closer”. But Nazanin was returned to prison three days later.

In June 2019, she began her second hunger strike, this time for 15 days, and was joined, in a show of solidarity, by her husband who staged his action outside the Iranian Embassy in London.

That was the first time I met Richard and when I visited him I was struck by his commitment and the love which kept him going.

A few months ago, I saw him again, during his own second hunger strike, this time outside the Foreign Office in Whitehall.

He had the support of all of us inside Westminster but I can only admit now that I was worried then that he might never enjoy the outcome we all longed for.

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The injustice that an individual could pay such a heavy personal price for a financial row between two governments was not lost on any MP or the Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries who had tried unsuccessfully to put the situation right since 2016.

It seemed astonishing throughout that we could not simply pay the debt, which our own government accepts we owed, and bring Nazanin home. Beyond comprehension that a dispute between two governments over some tanks that were paid for but not delivered could keep a woman from her life and child here. But it did.

When the breakthrough finally came, her MP Tulip Siddiq described the fear everyone had felt when Nazanin was called in for questioning by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards – not knowing that this time she was to be told of her release.

We do not yet know what it was that the current Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said or did so differently from her predecessors that it broke the deadlock. The important thing is that she did.

Richard Ratcliffe has said this week that the family are now looking forward to a new life and they will need time and space far away from the media spotlight which has been part of their ordeal to allow them to recover.

I have decided to keep my blue flower in its place, a reminder of what commitment can achieve for those we love.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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