Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn take Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's plight no more seriously than Boris Johnson

Lefties often argue that to be inactive against injustice is to be complicit. By that reckoning, are Corbyn and Khan – who were curiously silent on Tuesday when Nazanin marked her second year in jail – not complicit in her suffering?

Shaparak Khorsandi
Friday 06 April 2018 17:50 BST
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The London mayor and Labour leader have done precious little to secure the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe
The London mayor and Labour leader have done precious little to secure the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe (PA)

Tuesday was the second anniversary of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s imprisonment in a Tehran jail for doing, well, nothing whatsoever.

It’s tricky to get our heads around this in Britain where, for all our faults, we tend not to grab a mother with her toddler at the airport, pass the kid to her grandparents then throw the mother in prison mumbling something nonsensical like: “As you were feeding your baby, you looked like you were plotting to overthrow the government.”

Newspaper reports announce her as “dual national” or “north London mum”. The first tells us she belongs to two countries – one of which is hers; the second reminds us she is one of us – a Brit.

Richard Ratcliffe has not seen his wife or their four-year-old daughter for two years
Richard Ratcliffe has not seen his wife or their four-year-old daughter for two years (PA)

Her husband, Richard, has not seen his wife and their almost four-year-old daughter, Gabriella, for two years now. The Iranian authorities, ever keen to preserve the monster-under-your-bed story, refuse to issue him a visa.

Nazanin’s case finally became front-page news in November when a gaffe by Boris Johnson, ever keen to preserve his image of being a bumbling hairdryer accident who doesn’t bother himself with revising the facts before he opens his cakehole amid the most delicate of diplomatic situations, made her situation worse.

While – finally – speaking of her case in parliament, he said she was “teaching journalism” in Iran. This was not what Nazanin was doing. She was on holiday, visiting her mum and dad with her baby.

Johnson demonstrated a catastrophic “this doesn’t affect me, so I can’t really give a rat’s arse” attitude. He bolstered Tehran’s claim that she is a spy – justifying, in the eyes of Nazanin’s jailers, the five-year sentence she is currently serving in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison.

The foreign secretary’s inexcusable mistake caused an outcry – Labour’s most powerful figures suddenly became interested in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn piled in – the foreign secretary has to go, they said.

What took them so long? Why did Johnson have to shove his foot so firmly in his mouth before they paid attention?

“I think he’s got to go. He’s our foreign secretary, whose job is diplomacy and representing the best interests of our country and if Theresa May was a strong prime minister she’d have sacked him a long time ago,” Khan said.

Until that point, sadly, none of them had been moved enough by the case to make any meaningful intervention. It seemed an opportunity to bash the Tories was more enticing than fighting for Nazanin’s freedom.

When the Mayor of London invited thousands of Londoners to Trafalgar Square to watch an Oscar-winning Iranian film in March last year, it was only reluctantly that he agreed for the #FreeNazanin campaign to have a small presence – a few placards but no access to the stage, no chance of speaking to the crowd.

That is the experience of this family – sidelined both by the Islamic Republic, the UK government and, sadly, the Her Majesty’s Opposition too.

It was scandalous that the family of a Londoner wrongly imprisoned in Iran were not allowed to address the biggest public gathering the Iranian community in London has ever had. The Ratcliffe family and Nazanin’s supporters were denied a unique and powerful platform.

I’m a Labour supporter, I backed Corbyn, but if you ask someone to resign for an error and five months down the line all you have shown is inaction, should there be a punishment?

Lefties often argue that to be inactive against injustice is to be complicit. By that reckoning, were Corbyn and Khan – who called for Johnson to go in November and were curiously silent on Tuesday when Nazanin marked her second year in jail – not complicit in her suffering?

Labour must now demand action against the inhumane incarceration of this innocent British woman in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Nazanin’s suffering is hard to imagine. Her child is allowed two 45 minute visits to her mum a week. The little girl talks to her father via Skype but she has forgotten how to speak English so her grandparents translate conversations between father and daughter.

Last Tuesday I hosted a comedy night in London with Amnesty International and the anti-torture charity Redress, to make the second anniversary of her imprisonment a little bit easier for her family to get through and to keep her in people’s minds.

Richard Ratcliffe, in his impossibly gentle and dignified manner, addressed the audience in a packed Conway Hall – he assured us that Nazanin drew some succour from knowing the event was happening.

Al Murray, Mark Steel and Sara Pascoe, the poet Luke Wright and young talents Tom Lucy and Lou Sanders all turned up and raised the roof.

Corbyn went to Iran in 2014. He has the respect of the Iranian government as an anti-imperialist who opposed the Iraq war. Why is he not speaking out? Why is Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor, not speaking out?

We need you guys – Nazanin’s MP, Tulip Siddiq, can’t be left to pressure the government on her own. We need you to step up and help Nazanin and her young daughter come home to Finchley where they belong.

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