After 150 days in jail, Nazanin Ratcliffe, the English-Iranian mother who was arrested in Iran while visiting her family finally got her day in court only to be convicted to five years in jail for “secret charges” in a closed door session headed by the notorious “hanging judge” Salavati. For the past five months, Nazanin was interrogated, was allowed only three phone calls home and had little contact with her lawyer only when her trial began about a month ago. Her two year old daughter, Gabriella, remains in the custody of her grandparents in Iran since she is not allowed to leave the country while Nazanin’s husband, Richard, remains in London out of fear that he too may be arrested if he visits Iran.
The timing of Nazanin’s conviction borders the absurd as, only yesterday, diplomatic relations between the UK and Iran resumed as the UK appointed Nicholas Hompton as its ambassador in Iran following the resuming of British Airways flights to Tehran. But not everyone in Tehran is happy about the renewed diplomatic relations: a hardline Iranian MP, Allaedin Boroujerdi, warned that “the British diplomat needs to be constantly monitored, since the UK has had a negative record both before and after the Islamic Revolution” .
Nazanin’s case exemplifies the absurdity of Tehran’s paranoia of “foreign infiltration”: she was originally charged with trying to overthrow the regime although the details of how she is supposed to have done this were not procured by the Iranian authorities. In fact, it seems as if Nazanin herself was not made aware of what the “secret charges” against her really were. She was stripped of her UK nationality since the regime in Tehran does not recognize dual nationalities. She, like many other Iranian political prisoners, did not have the privilege of a fair trial, meeting her lawyer only a few days before her trial began and the judge chosen to rule over her case, Abolqassem Salavati, known as the “hanging judge” in Iran, is notorious for his harsh sentences.
But Nazanin is not alone in her predicament: at least five more foreign nationals are in prison in Iran awaiting trial for similar charges. These include: Homa Hoodfar , a Canadian-Iranian retired professor visiting family in Iran, Siamak Namazi , an American-Iranian businessman and Baquer Namazi , his 80 year old father who was imprisoned when he tried to free his son, Robin Shahini , an American-Iranian while visiting his family in Iran and Nizar Zakka, an American resident from Lebanon who visited Iran. In some cases, such as in the case of Robin Shahini, there is some information regarding the case against him – he criticized the regime in Iran for its horrid human rights record on his Facebook page. But in all cases, the charges are the usual “spying”, “colluding to overthrow the regime”, “propaganda against the regime” etc…, charges which cannot really be defended against since they can include any criticism of any kind, verbal, visual, written or video.
Petitions to free Nazanin were signed (over 800,000 to date), UK politicians, global NGO’s and activists all called for her immediate release but Tehran isn’t listening to anyone but its hardline regime and most of all, its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei whose paranoia of Western “infiltration” and “influence” has become a guiding light for the regime. Even Hassan Rouhani, who people claimed to be the wished-for moderate who could change Iran, is helpless when it comes to dealing with hardliners and with Khamenei.
Five years in jail…five years for a crime she might not even be aware of. Imagine being unable to plan for anything until 2020…five years from now. And since there is no date for her appeal, no one knows how much of this time Nazanin will rot in jail. Since her health has deteriorated and she has lost a lot of weight, her best hope is that the UK will broker a prisoner exchange, with or without a ransom, just as the US did for the American prisoners who were languishing in jails in Iran when the nuclear deal was signed.