Held Hostage in Iran with Richard Ratcliffe

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of imprisoned British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe who was arrested in Iran almost three years ago while on holiday with her infant daughter, addresses the 11th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. 

On the arrest and imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe:

“Three years ago, she was arrested at the airport on a visit to Iran with our then 21-month old daughter.”

“She was taken to a secret court and charged with secret charges…At her trial she was not allowed to speak.”

“Nazanin spent a total of 8.5 months in solitary confinement which had all sorts of consequences
— psychological and others in health terms.”

“The Iranian regime weaponizes the worry of motherhood—it has used [our daughter] as a tool of pressure on Nazanin—threatening to send her away, or to move her into prison.”

On the importance of supporting political prisoners and their families:

“Love is a verb, not a noun, it’s a doing word. There is a really important way that everything people do for political prisoners is so important for keeping going.”

From Nazanin’s letter to her daughter on her third birthday:

“My darling daughter, the word prison is bitter, it suggests separation. But I promise you that the sad somber days of our separation will be ended soon. Our walk toward freedom will be over soon. Give me your hand, we will walk the rest of this road.”

Full Remarks

Thank you, I am honored to be here as part of this panel.

My name is Richard Ratcliffe. I am the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British Iranian charity worker who is currently being held in Evin prison.

Three years ago Nazanin travelled to Iran on holiday with our then 21 month old daughter, Gabriella, to visit her parents for Iranian New Year. She was arrested, our daughter’s passport confiscated, and was put into solitary in an unknown location.

Later she was accused in the Iranian media of espionage, and was convicted for 5 years on secret charges. At her trial she was not allowed to speak.

Just before she became eligible for parole, a second court case was opened against her – formally blocking her parole eligibility. This was famously blamed on the words of the former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson – where he mistakenly claimed that she had been training journalists in Iran rather than on holiday, and the mistake was seized on by the Iranian Judiciary. That second court case has been periodically closed and revived ever since.   

In reality, Nazanin is held as diplomatic leverage by the Iranian authorities in a dispute between Iran and the UK, over some monies that the UK owes Iran. Most of the strange events in our case (including that second court case) can be linked back to dynamics in that issue.

That is part of the reason why we asked the UK to invoke diplomatic protection, for Nazanin’s case – for the government to recognise officially it is simply unacceptable to use people in this way.

Nazanin spent a total of 8½ months in solitary during her first year. This has had lasting psychological and other health problems since – unexplained collapses, depression, growing lumps. There has been a general reluctance to provide outside treatment. Earlier this year she went on hunger strike in protest at their denial.

The theme of the panel—prisoners and their families—which I think catches a really important insight.

There is obviously a key way in which the abuse suffered by a political prisoner, is also an abuse visited on the whole family. It is an experience that the whole family has to endure.

The Iranian regime has particularly manipulative aspects—it weaponises the worry of motherhood – it has used Gabriella as a tool of pressure on Nazanin—who was still being breast fed when Nazanin was taken—threatening to send her away, or to move her into prison. There have also been threats to my in-laws, particularly that other children will be arrested if they speak out.

But I wanted also to talk about the positive side – the central part of families in campaigning.

At the centre of all human rights stories, are ordinary families finding their ways through extraordinary situations.

Families like my own family: (my parents, my cousins) all had to learn all about campaigning – trying to influence politicians and the government, learning to get heard in the media.

Other families in a similar situation: Nazanin is not the only British Iranian being held—she is not the only dual or foreign national being held by Iran as leverage with other countries. There has been a wave of people from North America and Europe taken in the past couple of years. Together this week we are doing a joint submission for Iran’s UPR process—arguing that the world needs to do more to protect people held this way.

Arguing that we are stronger together.

And Ordinary families like all of us in the audience:  For Nazanin we have done lots of family events. This Sunday for Mothers Day we will be delivering 155 bunches of flowers to Iranian Embassy—one for each week Nazanin has now been held. Last Mother’s Day we painted stones to give to the Foreign Secretary and remind him of his promise to “leave no stone unturned” in Nazanin’s case.

That campaigning relies on lots of ordinary people and families – members of Amnesty and other human rights organisations and groups. But also ordinary people who have signed our petition, come to events and just show they care.

That the world can be different. There is an outside for prison.

That care—your care—keeps alive a different day.

I wanted to end with Nazanin’s words—on the importance of family for keeping us all going. On Gabriella’s third birthday (a year and a half ago), Nazanin wrote an open letter—I want to read part:

“Our trip to Iran last Norouz, when you were 22 months, was one of no return. The past 14 months, my share of you is only the occasional hour in the visiting room at Evin prison. How young you are to go through such a horrible experience.

“In spite of our efforts, you have grown—enough to know where I am. It is what you tell the other mothers in the park when they ask where your mother is. In prison, you answer, as though it is normal. In the world of a three-year-old, perhaps it is.

“My darling daughter, the word prison is bitter. It suggests separation. But I promise you that the sad, sombre days of our separation will be ended soon. You and I will hold our heads high. We will walk towards freedom with pride.

“We will walk the rest of the road—thanks to the never-ending love of your father, and the support from family and friends, and millions of people that follow our story around the world. Give me your hand, my beautiful girl. We will walk the rest of this path.

“Happy third birthday to you—the shining red apple of my life, my beautiful girl.”

12th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, UN Opening, March 25, 2019

Speakers and Participants

Richard Ratcliffe

Husband of arbitrarily detained British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, leads #FreeNazanin campaign



Finding the Truth in Iran with Potkin Azarmehr

Potkin Azarmehr, Iranian activist and blogger who left Iran for the UK after the revolution of 1979, since becoming a key activist resisting religious extremism and political intolerance in Iran, addresses the 6th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. Quotes: To Be

Political Prisoners

Geneva Summit 2016 Courage Award with Antonietta Ledezma

Antonietta Ledezma, daughter of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, in jail on politically-motivated charges, addresses the 8th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks. On her father’s arrest: “The last 15th of February of 2015, 120 armed policemen smashed into my father’s

Women's Rights

Geneva Summit 2015 Women’s Rights Award with Masih Alinejad

Masih Alinejad, Iranian women’s rights activist, journalist, and founder of the My Stealthy Freedom campaign, addresses the 7th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks. Full Remarks Hillel Neuer: I just want to say personally, what an honor it is for myself and my organization