I stumbled upon it on my way home. A night time vigil for Nazanin Ratcliffe. It was to highlight the ongoing hunger strike by Richard Ratcliffe outside the Foreign and Commonwealth office in Whitehall Central London. It was his thirteenth day and night there and it was a cold night.
It was humbling to be made to feel so welcome and valued when my contribution was so small.
The vigil took place on 5 November. Around the corner in Parliament Square a riotous and noisy protest was ongoing with the smell and sounds of fireworks everywhere. Hundreds of police in riot gear lined many of the streets.
The vigil, however, was a peaceful protest, full of dignity, humanity and determination.
Who and where is Nazanin now?
Nazanin Ratcliffe is an Iranian British dual citizen and has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016. In early September 2016, she was sentenced to five years imprisonment after being found guilty of plotting to topple the Iranian government.
She was a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and is a former BBC employee. In early 2021 she was sentenced to another year in prison for taking part in a demonstration in London back in 2012. Her husband, Richard, has not seen her since 2016 and in realty cannot be sure when he will see her again.
Second hunger strike
Richard carried out his first hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in June 2019 and only stopped due to medical advice that he was at risk of serious health conditions.
He is now on day 15 of his second hunger strike. He has a small encampment situated outside the Foreign and Commonwealth office about 200 metres from Downing Street. Each day he stands outside Downing Street with his placards and messages asking Boris Johnson to acknowledge that Nazanin is being held as a hostage and to pay the debt owing to Iran. Johnson says that he has pledged to re double efforts to secure her release but so far nothing seems to be happening.
Many MPs and peers have visited Richard at his protest and pledged their support. However, serious government momentum and action are needed to get Nazanin released and back home to London
The vigil for Nazanin
This was my first time of attending the protest. I joined a group of about 25 there and chatted to several who had been there many times including his friends and members of his family.
I held a candle and got candle grease all over my coat hands and shoes! I was reluctant to sign the book and leave a personal message but was convinced to do so, as was told it will eventually be sent out to Iran.
I also spoke with Richard for a few minutes to relay my embarrassment and anger that the British government was doing nothing to help him, as well as to show my solidarity.
A failure of British democracy
The ongoing torment of this innocent family is a failure of British democracy to protect its citizens. How can we fix climate change when we can’t protect our citizens?
We also know that Johnson’s careless words in parliament have severely harmed her case as this was used by Iran in her court case.
Nazanin’s captivity is political leverage for the return of £400m that was paid by Iran for the delivery of Chieftain tanks in the 1970’s. The international court of arbitration ruled in Iran’s favour but the money is in a frozen bank account.
While the return of the money may indeed cause political embarrassment to the UK government, politics and egos seem to be getting in the way.
What can we all do?
If you are in London soon you can visit and sign the book of messages that are going to Nazanin.
You can also use social media to tweet and send facebook messages to the Foreign Office @trussliz and 10 Downing Street. Please use #FreeNazanin and @FreeNazanin
Next time you have hunger pangs remember this man outside in the open air cold and hungry sleeping in a flimsy tent on a pavement standing up for democracy right in the heart of our government.
Read more by Peter Benson