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22 March 2022

No one has any right to tell Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe how to feel

After six years of detention and torture, she doesn’t owe anyone anything – she is owed an explanation.

By Ailbhe Rea

It should be a matter of national shame that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe – released, finally, after six years of detention in Iran – was home for only a few days before her warm welcome turned to racist and misogynistic hate in corners of the internet. “Send her back” and “ungrateful cow” have been trending on Twitter – all because she dared to criticise the government’s long delay in securing her freedom. 

Nazanin and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, held a press conference in parliament on 21 March, allowing journalists who have followed Richard’s campaign for years to mark this special moment when, finally, he could appear in public with his wife by his side. It satisfied the media and public’s demand to hear from Nazanin herself, for photos, for video footage, for answers to questions – and it allows the couple, having ticked that box, to enjoy the privacy they have requested while they heal from the past few years and readjust to life as a family again. 

Nazanin expressed gratitude to everyone who had played a part in her release – politicians, the media, her family, friends, medical and legal teams and fellow prisoners, as well as calling for the release of other Iranian detainees including Morad Tahbaz, who holds US, British and Iranian citizenship, and whose eldest daughter Roxanne spoke at the news conference. But what outraged some people were her comments about the UK government: “Richard said to thank the Foreign Secretary. I do not really agree with him on that level… What’s happened now should have happened six years ago.”

The key to the success of Richard Ratcliffe’s campaign was that he so powerfully evoked the gap left by Nazanin’s absence: a little girl in Hampstead growing up without her mother, a devoted husband raising his daughter without his wife. That relatable, moving framing sustained the campaign for six years. But what was sometimes eclipsed was the dark, uncomfortable reality of what Nazanin was being subjected to in prison: torture of the kind that those of us who haven’t experienced it can barely imagine.

A chilling report compiled by independent investigators and seen by the Times revealed last year the detail of Nazanin’s treatment during her detention. She spent almost nine months in solitary confinement. She was bombarded with bright lights and blaring televisions to deprive her of sleep, while enduring daily interrogations of eight to nine hours. She was chained to a bed for seven days, blindfolded and handcuffed, put in stress positions, subject to sensory overload. She was told that she would never see her baby daughter again, that her husband had left her, and threatened that she would be buried alive if she did not cooperate.

And during all of this, she was given repeated assurances from successive foreign secretaries that she would be released, which time and again came to nothing. 

No one has any right to tell Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe how she should be feeling now she has finally been released. She lost six of the most precious years of her daughter’s life, and returns home deeply scarred by her experience. The report into her torture revealed she was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as claustrophobia and insomnia. She doesn’t owe anyone anything – she is owed an explanation.

[See also: Witnessing the love story of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband was a privilege]

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