Letter: Political Prisoner Thanks Richard Ratcliffe for Being the “Voice” of Mothers Behind Bars in Iran
- Ratcliffe and His Wife Have Been on a Joint Hunger Strike for 11 Days and Counting
- Their Daughter Will Soon Have to Leave Iran to Start School in the UK
Prominent political prisoner Narges Mohammadi has written a letter thanking Richard Ratcliffe for highlighting the suffering of mothers who’ve been imprisoned in Iran for their peaceful actions.
“It is most unfortunate that my country’s government has treated women and mothers like this for 40 years [since Iran’s 1979 revolution],” wrote Mohammadi, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence (of which she must serve 10) for engaging in peaceful human rights activism. “In this land, we have stood against tyranny, striving for freedom, life, and even to be with our husbands and children.”
Ratcliffe, a British citizen, has been on hunger strike and camped outside the Iranian embassy in London since June 15, 2019, for the freedom of his Iranian-born British wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, imprisoned in Iran since April 2016.
“I am glad that for the sake of humanity and dignity, men and women like you are the voice of these women and mothers behind bars,” added Mohammadi, whose own two children are living in exile with their father in France. “You have stood in front of my country’s embassy and amplified the voice of a mother who is living with the fear of losing her small child.”
Mohammadi, located in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison with Zaghari-Ratcliffe, noted that the the dual national has been in anguish over the thought that her five-year-old daughter Gabriella, who was with her when she was arrested while visiting her parents in Tehran, will soon no longer be able to visit her because she will have to leave the country to start school in the United Kingdom.
Following is an English translation of Mohammadi’s letter that was obtained by the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI) and edited for clarity.
Nazanin’s hunger strike is a mother’s struggle against injustice and her fear of losing her child, and your protest is a tribute to dignity and honor, which I support.
It is now more than a week that you have been on hunger strike, camped outside the embassy of my country along with Nazanin, who has also been on strike here in the Women’s Ward of Evin Prison.
On the 25th of December 2016, I was called to the ward’s office to pick up a new prisoner. I saw a young, slim woman who was sitting on a chair. The prison guard introduced her to me: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. I kissed, embraced, and welcomed her. She asked, how did I know her? To which I replied that she was the mother of a 22-month-old baby and that I prayed from the bottom of my heart for her to have patience and strength after being separated from her small daughter.
We were born in the same country and are currently cellmates but what connected my heart to hers is her motherhood.
During the early days of her imprisonment in this ward, her bed in room 2 was beside mine. She stayed awake all night, sitting on her bed, and her deep sorrow and suffering were inexplicable. I will never forget Nazanin’s tears when she mentioned Gabriella’s name.
Dear Mr. Ratcliffe, Nazanin has tolerated the suffering of being separated from you and her child for 3.5 years, but soon the little Gabriella must leave Iran to start school.
Nazanin has voiced the sorrow of parting with her daughter through her hunger strike. Her hunger strike is not against anyone. It is the pained voice of a mother who asks for justice from those in charge of her own country [Iran] and the country of her husband [the United Kingdom].
She cries out against the intolerance of her little sparrow leaving her, and this indeed is a stain of shame on the human society witnessing the treatment of her by those in power.
Mr. Ratcliffe, I am a mother whose twins have left the country due to my long imprisonment and since then have been longing to see them; I haven’t experienced a feeling more painful than that.
I know Nazanin’s fear of the day Gabriella will board a flight to London, and of not being able to see her until she is freed.
I regretfully admit that my country’s government has jailed mothers whose days of imprisonment will be a dark page in the history of its rule.
The children [of political prisoners in Iran] grow up longing to be with their mothers, and their mothers go through each day with the pain of being separated from their kids. Mothers like Maryam Akbari-Monfared, who has been in [Evin Prison] for over 10 years without even one day of furlough, away from her three daughters, and this will continue.
Mothers like Azita Rafizadeh and Fatemeh Mosana, who have been imprisoned together while their husbands and children have been forced to live on their own.
It is most unfortunate that my country’s government has treated women and mothers like this for 40 years. In this land, we have stood against tyranny, striving for freedom, life, and even to be with our husbands and children.
I am glad that for the sake of humanity and dignity, men and women like you are the voice of these women and mothers behind bars.
You have stood in front of my country’s embassy and have amplified the voice of a mother who is living with the fear of losing her small child.
I would like you to know that the people of Iran are full of love, compassion, and humanity, and regardless of their religions or beliefs, they are committed to peace.
All your suffering at the hands of the Iranian government and the pain you are bearing deeply pains us.
In April 2016, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ intelligence organization and ultimately sentenced to five years in prison under unspecified espionage charges.
An employee of the Thomson Reuters Foundation charity, she has been eligible for release since November 2017 based on Article 58 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, which states that courts can issue an order of conditional release after a convict has served one-third of their sentence.
In July 2018, a judge reportedly told Zaghari-Ratcliffe that she was being held as a bargaining chip by the Iranian government to convince London to pay Tehran an old debt.