When Richard Ratcliffe married into an Iranian family, he might have looked forward to the wonders you would expect when you embrace a different culture.
Instead, next month will mark a year that his wife has been in detention in her country of birth. Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from Hampstead in north London, is now months into her five-year prison sentence in the notorious Evin prison. The charge? You don’t need one in Iran.
When “the Peru Two” were caught in Lima in 2014, they were carrying 11kg of cocaine. All Nazanin had was her baby.
She is 38 and remains in the custody of the Islamic Republic and is now suffering health problems – she is denied medical care. It has been reported that she wrote a suicide note, and only desisted from a hunger strike “for the sake of her daughter”.
If Donald Trump were inflicting this pain on a mother separated from her young daughter, there would be international outrage. From Iran we kind of expect it. The Government has been accused of inaction, with Ratcliffe saying that they have “never once criticised Iran’s treatment of Nazanin, and abuse of her human rights, nor the arbitrary nature of her detention and trial”.
Clearly not much is happening. So what happens when nothing happens? How many interviews has Richard Ratcliffe got to do before action is taken?
His family is interrupted. Gabriella, the couple’s two-year-old daughter, is being looked after by her grandparents in Iran while her mother suffers in jail and her father is turned into a one-man PR machine.
Expect another spate of interviews with Richard on the anniversary of Nazanin’s arrest. How are you coping? What’s it like not having your daughter? What do you do every day? What are Saturday nights like? Have you bought worry beads?
What does it take for this coverage to convert into meaningful action? Must Nazanin’s health deteriorate further?
When the Mayor of London is unmoved by calls to show solidarity with Nazanin’s family and that of Kamal Foroughi, the other Londoner behind bars in Iran (both cases are championed by Amnesty International), even when Trafalgar Square is packed with Iranians for a film screening, what can we do?
Nazanin’s MP Tulip Siddiq has called on Theresa May to act – she has repeatedly been refused a meeting with Boris Johnson.
People could appeal to Lord Lamont, chairman of the British Iranian Chamber of Commerce or its president, the former UK ambassador to Iran Sir Richard Dalton – they surely have connections, and can, if so moved, prompt the Foreign Secretary to act. But that is no guarantee.
Let’s recall the woman on a beach in France whose sunbathing in hijab was interrupted rudely by police officers last year. The internet went crazy. Such anger does not work the other way around – for women who don’t want to wear clothes they are forced to. Just look at Iran’s 18-year-old chess grandmaster Dorsa Derakhshani – she has been booted out of its national team after refusing to wear the garment at a tournament in Gibraltar in January.
Sadiq Khan is vocal about Donald Trump but does not see it as his job to speak out about such political expressions of Islam as telling a woman what to wear and keeping an innocent woman in jail with no recourse to anything that in any way resembles what we call law in this country.
When a Swedish delegation visited Iran last month, right-on feminist ministers chose to wear headscarves out of respect. Iran has used its clout as the world’s second biggest oil producer to normalise its culture of oppressing women – and neither trade-oriented politicians, the business elites they serve or even liberal feminists are too bothered.
Nazanin is not the only woman unjustly jailed in Iran. But she is a Londoner. Wednesday is International Women’s Day: on that day it is the duty of Boris Johnson, Sadiq Khan and Theresa May to demand her release. If they don’t, let’s hope the FCO, City Hall and Downing Street are well stocked with soap – they’re going to need some to wash their hands if this goes on.