Dual National Speaks of Yearning for Family and Disillusionment with Iran in Letter Prison
Iranian-British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, imprisoned in Iran since April 2016, has written a letter to her UK-based husband about the pain of being separated from their infant daughter, Gabriella “Gisoo” Ratcliffe, and disillusionment with her birth country of Iran.
“I turned 38 without you by my side and you turned 42 without me, while our dear Gisoo turned two-years-old without both of us,” she wrote in a letter from Evin Prison in Tehran, published on March 10, 2017, by the Defenders of Human Rights Center.
“When you’re only two-years-old, it’s very hard to bear the weight of such a difficult and significant experience that life puts on your small shoulders,” she added.
“The country we were once proud of (Iran) has robbed us both of seeing the golden years of our daughter’s life and accused me of committing (a crime) I have not done and shockingly condemned me to five years in prison, which I have to spend away from you and our dear Gisoo,” she wrote.
“Do you remember how I used to boast in detail to your friends and family about my country?” she added. “I’m still proud of the civilization and culture, but with all the pain and suffering I’m going through, I’m not sure when I will return after I leave one day.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe also said that the nine months she was forced to spend in solitary confinement before being transferred to the Women’s Ward in Evin Prison were worse than the excruciating physical pain of childbirth.
“The night before our Gisoo was born, I had so much pain that I thought I would die and never see our little girl,” she wrote. “I thought there’s no pain worse than giving birth until there came a moment in solitary confinement when I felt a level of pain I have never experienced before, a pain a thousand times more painful, excruciating and longer than childbirth. And of course, in the end, it did not bring joy.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) detained Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project coordinator for the Thomson Reuters Foundation in London, at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport on April 3, 2016, as she was on her way back home following a brief holiday with family. Her daughter, whom she had brought along for the trip, was taken from her and sent to live with her grandparents in Tehran.
In September 2016, after prolonged periods of interrogation, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years imprisonment for unspecified “national security charges” in a trial egregiously lacking in due process.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family have repeatedly denied the charge and the authorities have not publicized any evidence to prove the accusation.
Abolqasem Salavati, a judge who is notorious for issuing harsh sentences in politicized cases, issued the sentence.
In interviews with the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), several lawyers have criticized Salavati for ignoring arguments by the defense in court and bowing to the demands of the prosecution, especially in cases in which the arresting authority was the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization.
The Appeals Court upheld the lower court’s sentence against Zaghari-Ratcliffe in January 2017.
“Our Gisoo has grown taller. She understands now very well that her father and mother are not together,” wrote Zaghari-Ratcliffe. “Father is in London and mother is far away living in a room where we have been visiting each other all this time.”
“She has completely forgotten your language, but on the other hand, her Persian is so sweet,” she added. “Sometimes I wonder what language you communicate with each other.”
“The most painful part of this whole affair is that neither of us has witnessed our daughter grow up,” she wrote. “Neither of us.”
At least nine other women who are mothers to young children are currently imprisoned in Iran after being tried in politically motivated cases without due process, including prominent human rights defender Narges Mohammadi, Baha’i rights leaders Mahvash Shahriari Sabet, Fariba Kamalabadi and Fatemeh Mosanna, Baha’i teacher Azita Rafizadeh, Fahimeh A’raf, a follower of imprisoned spiritual leader Mohammad Ali Taheri, political prisoners Maryam Akbar Monfared and Sedigheh Moradi, and Elham Farahani, a citizen of Iran and Cyprus who was arrested in August 2012 on charges of “espionage” for the UK.
The judiciary’s ongoing imprisonment of dual nationals, usually arrested by the Revolutionary Guards’ Intelligence Organization or the Intelligence Ministry, contradicts President Hassan Rouhani’s repeated calls for expatriates to return to Iran.
The growing number of arrests also reflects hardliners’ efforts to prevent the engagement with the West that the Rouhani administration has sought to encourage.
Iranian-American dual citizen Robin (Reza) Shahini, sentenced to 18 years in prison in October 2016, has been held since April 2016; Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, held since October 15, 2015, and his Iranian-American father, 80-year-old Bagher Namazi, held since February 2016, have both been sentenced to ten years in prison; British-Iranian dual national Roya Saberi Nobakht, held since October 2013, has been sentenced to seven years in prison; and Iranian-Austrian dual citizen Kamran Ghaderi, held since January 2016, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.