Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Daughter flies home but campaign to free charity worker ‘does not end here’
MP gives little Gabriella a Frozen book
11 October, 2019 — By Richard Osley
Away from the press conference cameras, MP Tulip Siddiq at the Houses of Parliament today (Friday) with Richard Ratcliffe and his daughter Gabriella. Mr Ratcliffe’s mother, Barbara, and Monique Villa, who was chief executive of Thomson Reuters, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s employers, are on the left of the photo.
HAMPSTEAD and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq said today (Friday) there must be no let up in attempts to secure the release of a West Hampstead charity worker locked up in Iran despite an emotional and happy reunion in London between her husband and daughter.
As Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s five-year-old daughter Gabriella was brought to the Houses of Parliament to join a further appeal for a breakthrough in the case, Ms Siddiq said: “A third of the family is still missing.”
Gabriella, who can no longer speak English after living with her grandparents in Iran for the past three and half years while her mother has been held, was reunited with father, Richard Ratcliffe, at Heathrow Airport late on Thursday evening. She has come back to England now she is old enough to start school.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe with Gabriella before her ordeal
Ms Siddiq said: “I had been worried about how she might find the experience. She was so young when she left and she has been through so much, but today she was so happy to be with her father, hugging and kissing him. I gave her a book on Frozen because I want her to know about strong women. We bought her a cake, which she loved, and she played with making jewellery with beads and with a sticker book. I think in a way she has the spirit of the Ratcliffes, she is calm like her father – and it made me feel for more optimistic for her, seeing her skipping and dancing.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was stopped at Tehran airport on her way home from a family holiday and accused of spying, has been sentenced to at least five years in prison. Iran has stood firm on calls for her to be released despite international pressure and interest from media across the world. The 40-year-old denies all the charges.
But the MP said: “As happy as she [Gabriella] was – she was talking through a translator about a toy store she was going to go to – I couldn’t help thinking it was Nazanin who should be here colouring in with her. It was a happy day, Richard was overwhelmed at being reunited with her daughter, but there was always a feeling that somebody was missing. And that’s Nazanin. And that’s why the campaign does not end here. I can’t imagine what Nazanin must have been thinking, worrying about her daughter on a long flight, worrying whether she is going to be ok. The victim here is Nazanin and we can’t let anybody think that just because Gabriella is back here, that they can forget about her.”
She added: “It must also be hard for the grandparents who have looked after Gabriella for all of this time. Their life was completely changed too.”
Ms Siddiq has repeatedly raised Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case in parliament and she believes the government should consider paying a £400,000 debt to Iran which dates back to a cancelled arms deal in the 1970s. A court has ruled that the Iranian authorities have a legitimate claim, but the United Kingdom has refused to pay and relations between the two nations have see-sawed.
“In the answers that are given to me, the government says that Nazanin’s case is not linked to the debt,” she said. “But Richard has noticed, and other people have noticed, that whenever the debt is discussed, something seems to happen with Nazanin’s case. Something will happen to her. People in Iran have said that it is linked too. If the debt was paid – if you owe someone money, you should pay, that’s basic for good international diplomacy – then Iran would at least come to table and there could be talks about releasing Nazanin. At the moment, it seems there is not much access to Nazanin, and the response is ‘well, there’s nothing much we can do’.”
Richard Ratcliffe staged a hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London earlier this year
Ms Siddiq said she will also push for improved communication between Mr Ratcliffe and his daughter, and Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
“Richard has only been allowed eight minutes on the phone each week. He now has to share that time with Gabriella as well,” the MP said. “I don’t know what will be allowed or what will be possible, but it would be great for her to be able to Skype her mother sometime. She knows where her mum is and what has happened, but they should all be back here together.”