Tulip Siddiq MP: ‘I was Nazanin's voice in Parliament'

OPINION: Hampstead and Kilburn MP reflects on the fight to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Friday, 25th March — By Tulip Siddiq MP

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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe finallt meets MP Tulip Siddiq


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I HAD just given birth to my daughter in 2016 when I received an apologetic call from my office manager Oliver.

He told me that an accountant from West Hampstead called Richard had rung the office because his wife had been detained in Iran while on holiday.

That was Richard Ratcliffe, who I immediately asked to come to my house along with the then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

While breastfeeding my newborn, I took down details of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Evin prison where Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was being taken. Little did I know that the next six years would become a long battle to get my constituent home.

An innocent family had been ripped apart because of a dispute between the UK and Iran and an unpaid debt. It felt so unjust.

Initially, it was quite difficult to get any attention on Nazanin’s case. Richard was relentless in his campaigning – organising protests, comedy nights, marches – anything to keep his wife’s name in the public eye.

I was Nazanin’s voice in parliament, raising eight Urgent Questions, speaking in countless debates, submitting hundreds of Parliamentary Questions and letters.

In six years of campaigning, I lobbied three prime ministers, five foreign secretaries and just as many ministers for the Middle East for Nazanin’s freedom.

Ironically, the breakthrough came when the then foreign secretary made an enormous blunder by wrongly claiming that Nazanin was teaching journalists in Iran.

These appalling comments were used against Nazanin in the Iranian courts and media, jeopardising her freedom. However, seemingly overnight everyone became interested in Nazanin’s case.

It also meant that Boris Johnson was forced to meet with me and Richard after months of us trying.

There were so many false dawns that it was hard to believe when I heard a few weeks ago that Nazanin would be freed. I tried to manage Richard’s expectations.

We had been told several times before that their little daughter could decorate the Christmas tree as mummy was coming home or that she would be able to celebrate Nowruz (Iranian new year) with them.

It wasn’t until she was actually on the plane that I allowed myself a big sigh of relief and told Gabriella that mummy really was coming home this time.

However, Nazanin coming home isn’t the end of the case. It should never have taken six years for the government to pay the debt we owe to Iran and get her back.

There are other British citizens being held hostage in Iran, including Morad Tahbaz who lived in Hampstead and has family in my constituency.

I feel I owe it to Nazanin to push for an inquiry that gets the bottom of why the UK seems unable to tackle Iran’s hostage-taking.

Never again should it take this long to get justice.

Hosting Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella in parliament this week felt like a surreal experience.

As I joked with Nazanin about running in high heel shoes, it felt like I was having lunch with any one of the mothers from my daughter’s school.

Except this mother spent nine months in solitary confinement – the same amount of time I was pregnant with my second child.

This mother was subject to sleep deprivation the whole summer – while I read my children a story and tucked them up in bed.

This mother was blindfolded, handcuffed and interrogated daily for up to nine hours – while I attended plays and art exhibitions at my child’s school.

Not to mention that the guard outside this mother’s cell door would purposely call her own children on loudspeaker while Nazanin cried for her own daughter.

The Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s are an ordinary family who were thrust into the most extraordinary of circumstances, and they rose to the challenge.

I’m so proud of my constituents and I’m so happy they’re back home in Camden.

Tulip Sidiq is the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn

 

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