Nazanin and Anoosheh’s families stuck two fingers up at the establishment – and won

Both families spoke out against the advice of the Foreign Office, ignoring the pleas of the diplomats lauded by Liz Truss

Cathy Newman
Thursday 17 March 2022 13:35
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<p>Their relatives’ dogged, lonely campaigns inspired us all </p>

Their relatives’ dogged, lonely campaigns inspired us all

The release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori was, Liz Truss said in a celebratory press release issued by the Foreign Office, “the result of tenacious and creative British diplomacy”.

It wasn’t until the fourth paragraph, after showering praise on her predecessors (four of them by the way) and the prime minister, that she paid tribute to the “resolve, courage and determination” that the two detainees and their families have shown. Of course, British diplomacy deserves plaudits, as does the current foreign secretary’s persistence, and the years of work by Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s MP Tulip Siddiq.

But I reserve my greatest admiration for the relatives, whose dogged, lonely campaigns inspired us all.

Richard Ratcliffe has repeatedly risked his health by going on hunger strike to raise his wife’s plight, first outside the Iranian embassy in 2019, and then in front of the Foreign Office in November: cold, dejected, seemingly hopeless. The first time, it was summer, and he was surrounded by dozens of supporters. Last year, it was freezing cold, and he had only a couple of family members or friends taking it in turns to keep him company. Yet he persisted.

So, too, did Anoosheh Ashoori’s wife Sherry and daughter Elika, who – frustrated by the lack of government focus on their case – launched a petition on change.org in 2019, before coming on to Channel 4 News to tell their story publicly.

Both families spoke out against the advice of the Foreign Office, ignoring the pleas of the diplomats lauded by Liz Truss. They stuck two fingers up at the establishment, and yesterday it felt as if they were vindicated.

I’m sure there were many officials who were indeed as tenacious as the foreign secretary gave them credit for. But as the government paid what it described as a “legitimate” £400m debt to Iran yesterday, it begged the question why the cheque wasn’t written years ago.

Too often, it seemed ministers and mandarins alike hindered rather than helped. When Boris Johnson blurted out that Nazanin had been training journalists, his failure to read his brief may have delayed patient Ratcliffe’s efforts by years.

It reinforced the sense that both families were pawns in a game played out between hostile states, powerless to influence or intervene.

It would be nice to say that Ratcliffe’s indefatigable campaign at last paid off yesterday. And, certainly, his refusal to accept defeat kept his wife’s case at the top of many a political in-tray.

But I’m afraid the truth is that the geopolitical chess contest continues: it’s just a different grandmaster pushing the pawns around.

Russia’s war and the urgent requirement to find another source of energy for European householders has seen the west cosying up to many a pariah state in the hunt for oil and gas. Suddenly, restoring some kind of relationship with Iran, and reheating the nuclear deal placed on ice by Donald Trump, became a political imperative.

Nazanin and Anoosheh were shuffled two spaces forward and onto the plane bound for RAF Brize Norton. For a few hours we could all celebrate a moment of joyful tenderness in a brutal world – a world where millions of Ukrainians are feeling first hand what it’s like to be held hostage by the diktat of a tyrannical regime. For now, it’s Vladimir Putin, not the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who controls the board.

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The refugees pouring out of Ukraine have had their lives placed in jeopardy overnight, just as Nazanin did when she was seized at the airport in Tehran, or as Anoosheh did when he was snatched off the street and bundled into a van.

The tyrants will no doubt continue to do their worst – in Russia, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia (where just days before Johnson met the crown prince, 81 people were executed). But watching a husband, a wife and two daughters cling onto hope, and be rewarded for their patience, gives us all permission to believe in humanity once again.

Before he made his way to the air base to be reunited with his wife, Richard Ratcliffe told broadcasters he’d better tidy the house before he brought her home. Elika Ashoori baked a cake. Both creative and tenacious, these two are the best of all of us.

Cathy Newman presents ‘Channel 4 News’ at 7pm

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