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Christmas revellers stop to pay tribute to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Jailed mother’s husband addresses crowds at festive celebrations as hopes grow for her release

14 December, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Christmas begins in Belsize Park by remembering Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family are still waiting for her to be released [Photo: Linda Grove]

A COMMUNITY Christmas celebration doubled as a rally for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe as hopes grew for the jailed mother’s release from prison in Iran.

More than 150 people watched displays by Bollywood dancers and sang along to traditional carols with the Hampstead Community Choir and Abacus Free School all led by former Sigue Sigue Sputnik guitarist Neal Whitmore on Saturday night.

The crowd watched a passage from the Looking for Mummy – about Nazanin’s ordeal – by playwright Emi Howell. Classical actor Dame Janet Suzman read a poem in tribute to Nazanin next to a spectacular Christmas tree adorned with special Nazanin baubles.

Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe spoke about the campaign that has taken a dramatic twist this week with foreign secretary Boris Johnson flying out to Iran for ministerial talks. Mr Johnson described his visit as “worthwhile” although could not go as far as predicting any release date for Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been sentenced to five years on vague charges of plotting the overthrow of the state.

Her prison conditions are said to have dramatically improved and, speaking on the phone from prison to her husband this week, she has reportedly said there may be “light at the end of the tunnel”. She is due to appear in court on Sunday in front of the same judge who sentenced her in April.

Tulip Siddiq, Hampstead and Kilburn MP, has described a “monumental shift” on the approach of the foreign office to the case in the last month. At the Christmas event, there was a speech by Budgens owner Andrew Thornton and he joined his manager Daniel Frohwein and team singing Let it Snow.

“Andrew is marvellous at supporting the community, this year choosing WAC Arts as his chosen charity,” said organiser Linda Grove. “Community spirit is alive and well in Belsize Park and we invite anyone who would like to join our small team to help us make a show next year.”

The event had been in jeopardy after the council decided to cut down a tree from which the organisers normally hang the Christmas lights. But despite there being no big lights switch-on the event was a great success.

Ms Grove said: “Dame Janet Suzman was a real trouper surviving the cold for an hour-and-a-half after reading a poem in tribute to Nazanin. The community was thrilled to have Abacus Free School involved this year with 17 primary school children performing Christmas songs for us with their parents. Nicki Patel of the BP petrol station was very generous to hire some Bollywood dancers for the event that made everyone smile and feel happy – a must again for next year.”

Conservative councillor Jonny Bucknell sat in the cold dressed up as Santa with a sack of presents for the children, made by Belsize councillor Leila Roy.

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