It was standing room only in the Macmillan room of Portcullis House. The first press conference to be given by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe since her release from detention in Iran was not something to be missed. For six years, Nazanin had been a silent figure in a continuing political drama. Now we were to get a voice to put a name and photograph. She was to be even more impressive than any of us had imagined.
First, though, it was Tulip Siddiq, Nazanin and her husband’s local MP, who took center stage. Having paid tribute to her constituents, she cut to the chase. Given it had taken the repayment of an acknowledged debt to secure Nazanin’s release, what had taken the UK government so long? And why had we detained three Iranians who had come to London in 2013 to negotiate the terms of the repayment? Surely that had only encouraged Iran to think taking hostages was the only way to get its money back.
Nazanin’s husband, Richard Ratcliffe, just sounded pleased to be taking a back seat at last. The six years seem to have taken a harsher physical toll on him than they have on his wife. He’s aged noticeably. His hair of him ‘s grayer and thinner, his face more lined and his wife of him joked about him having put on weight after a hunger strike. Meanwhile, Nazanin looks little changed from the grainy images of her arrest of her at Tehran airport in 2016. Her scars of her are all on the inside of her and are not on the table for public consumption.
“It’s nice to be retiring from campaigning,” he said, holding on to his wife’s hand. For his own support from her, rather than hers. Tabloid portrayals of Nazanin as some powerless victim caught up in a story of global realpolitik have proven well wide of the mark. She’s a strong, powerful independent woman. Someone who knows her own mind and lives life on her own terms. You can mess with her, but you can’t break her from her.
Richard went on to say he had spent much of the past six years in a state of waiting. Now he was going to have to get used to being. He ended by saying he was in awe of his wife. As were we all.
Nazanin – dressed in the yellow and blue of Ukraine – began by thanking her family, both in the UK and Iran, before going on to say that her freedom would never be total until other detainees – such as Morad Tahbaz, whose eldest daughter, Roxanne , was also at the presser – were also released. Despite having promised to release Morad on furlough, the Iranians had already put him back in prison. One person’s illegal detention diminishes us all. It was an expression of humanity and selflessness.
Then she let rip. A very controlled fury. Icy, almost steely. We had been warned Nazanin wouldn’t be making any overtly political remarks and that any such statements would be left to Richard and Siddiq. Only no one appeared to have told Nazanin. She wasn’t going to settle for anything cozy and heart-warming. It was not her job to make the rest of the country feel better about itself.
So while she loved her husband to bits, she couldn’t go along with his expressions of thanks to the government. How many foreign secretaries had it taken to get her home from her? It had taken five when it should have been just the one. She should have been home six years ago. Her daughter de ella had been two when she was detained. Now she was nearly eight. No one could give her back the years that had been lost.
But that was as much as Nazanin was prepared to let the media see of her true feelings. The rest was for her and her family of her alone. She wasn’t going to emote for the hell of it. She wasn’t a performing seal. She was a woman with her integrity and sanity to maintain. Nazanin had spent six years practicing how to compartmentalize her emotions from her and she wasn’t about to stop now. So she declined to answer how she had coped in her darkest hours. Or what her true feelings of her for her captors of her had been.
Instead, she played it straight. There had been times of despair. Many times she had been led to think her release from her was imminent only to be let down. So she had learned not to trust anyone or anything. It was only when she was on the plane out of Iran that she allowed herself to believe she would be reunited with her family.
And no, she was not going to let herself hold a grudge. She should never have been stopped but she could not let that destroy her efforts to rebuild a family life. To enjoy the little things, like brushing her daughter de ella Gabriella’s hair de ella. “I have tried to leave the black hole in my heart on the plane,” she said.
As for Boris Johnson, whose careless words had made her situation incomparably worse, she had never given him the satisfaction of letting him see how much damage he had done. She had known she was powerless in prison so she gave little thought to politics. And when she only had 40 minutes with Gabriella, she wanted to spend the time on coloring and reading stories. Not giving in to her contempt for someone who never really gave her a second thought. Not many could show such grace under fire.
With that, the press conference ended and Nazanin, Richard and Gabriella made their way out of the room. After living out of a suitcase for the best part of a week, they were finally going home together for the first time in years. To get to know each other properly once more.
Meanwhile, back at the foreign affairs select committee, Philip Barton, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, was being questioned about the discrepancy between his testimony and that of a whistleblower who had said that the prime minister had prioritized the evacuation of Pen Farthing and His Pets from Afghanistan over Afghan interpreters. Nazanin might ruefully have concluded that she would have been better off being a cockapoo. That way she might have caught the Suspect’s attention and been home years ago.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism