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Nov. 10, 2021

Free Nazanin, British Hostage in Iran – The Hunger Strike, Part 2 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Free Nazanin, British Hostage in Iran – The Hunger Strike, Part 2 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
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Richard Ratcliffe, husband of British hostage in Iran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is on week 3 of his hunger strike outside the UK Foreign Office which is right next to the Prime Minister’s office. Richard’s amazing campaigning has inspired millions of good caring people from all walks of life to come together to free Nazanin. On this week’s episode, we show you the power of love, the power of hope, the power of solidarity and the power of lifting others while you climb. 

You’ll hear from volunteers of the Free Nazanin campaign, human rights activist and Hollywood actress, Nazanin Boniadi, human rights lawyer, Gissou Nia as well as the families and campaigners for other innocent people held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world. These include Daniela Tejada (wife of Matthew Hedges), Dara Conduit (colleague of Kylie Moore-Gilbert), Marielle Debos (colleague of Fariba Adelkhah), Mariam Claren (daughter of Nahid Taghavi) and former American hostage in Syria, Sam Goodwin.   

For more information on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, please check out the following:

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Free Nazanin, British Hostage in Iran – The Hunger Strike, Part 2 | Pod Hostage Diplomacy  


Daren Nair, Stephen Quentin, Emi Howell, Nazanin Boniadi, Gissou Nia, Daniela Tejada, Dara Conduit, Marielle Debos, Mariam Claren, Sam Goodwin.


Daren Nair: 

Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. I'm Daren Nair. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories and let you know how you can help bring them home.
 Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British citizen, an innocent mother, and a charity worker. She has been held hostage in Iran since 3rd April 2016. For the last five and a half years, Nazanin's husband, Richard Ratcliffe has been campaigning tirelessly to free his wife. He is currently on week 3 of his hunger strike, sleeping in a cold tent outside the UK Foreign Office, which is right next to the Prime Minister's Office. I've been there with Richard watching over him almost every day during this hunger strike.
 If you want to learn more about why Richard is on a hunger strike, what his objectives are, and how you can help, please do listen to last week's episode where I talk about this in detail with Richard and his family. Richard's condition has now started to deteriorate. Now, Richard is like family to me and like everyone else who cares about Richard, I am very worried.
 Richard told me, there are three red lines, which if he passes, then he'll have to stop his hunger strike. The first would be if he starts shivering as this will be a sign of hypothermia. The second would be if he starts to turn yellow. This would indicate there is a problem with his liver and the third will be if he can no longer walk without any assistance. Richard said he will end this hunger strike if any of these things happen.
 I understand how important this hunger strike is. I know why Richard is doing this, but I'm hoping that by the time [(2:00)] this episode is published on Wednesday, he has ended his hunger strike. No one goes on a hunger strike unless they are desperate, and Richard is desperate to reunite his family after five and a half years. He's desperate for Nazanin to come home to West Hampstead in London so she can be reunited with him and their seven-year-old daughter, Gabriella.
 No British citizen should ever have to go on hunger strike to pressure the British government to better protect their British loved ones overseas. Now, for those of you who don't know this, if you are a British citizen and you are wrongfully detained in another country, through no fault of your own, the British government is not legally required to assist you. Currently, the Foreign Office may do so at their own discretion.
 What the term discretion really means here is if there is an incentive for the Government to act. If there is enough public pressure. Enough good caring people who keep contacting their Members of Parliament, calling on the Government to free Nazanin, then they will do what it takes to bring her home. Richard knows this, which is why he started the Free Nazanin Campaign. It's a campaign that has touched the hearts of millions of people around the world. The Free Nazanin petition on change.org so far has 3.6 million signatures. Richard's campaigning throughout the last five and a half years has always been positive, always respectful, even though at times challenging, and most importantly, his campaign has been based on hope, love and a vision of his own family reunited. Now, this is something we can all relate to. Good caring people from all walks of life have come together to help Richard free Nazanin. One of them is a volunteer by the name of Stephen Quentin.
 Stephen Quentin: 

I'm Stephen Quentin and I've been a [(4:00)] supporter of Richard Ratcliffe's campaign since May 2016. I became involved in the Free Nazanin Campaign when I signed the petition on change.org. After that, I followed the campaign on Twitter and shared the petition updates. But, it was later that year though I really got involved in supporting through social media and Twitter storms. That was around the time the unjust five-year sentence was handed down, following a sham trial on secret charges. That crystallized things for me, a watershed moment. Until then, there was a hope it could all be sorted out somehow and Nazanin could return home.
 After that sentence, the case turned deadly serious. 2021 seemed an awful long way away then. I remember thinking, "Can I go on tweeting about this for five years?" The answer was, "Yes, I can" and I have. I've also attended many events, written to my MP several times, two different MPs since 2016, and helped organise a performance of the play, "Nazanin Story", in the library where I'm a volunteer.
 Now, over five years have gone by and this injustice might carry on for a further two years and Richard is struggling against both the injustice of the Iranian government and the inaction of the British government in response.
 It's increasingly plain what the Iranians' want, settlement of the IMS debt dating back to the 1970s. But it also seemed clear the British government is choosing not to pay it, for reasons that remain unclear.
 I first met Richard and other family members in Cardiff, in March 2017. It was an event to mark the Iranian New Year, Nowruz. It was for that holiday the previous year that Nazanin had traveled with Gabriella to [(6:00)] visit her parents in Tehran. And over the last five years, I've continued to support events and activities where I can, until this day. Including helping out the hunger strike outside the Iranian Embassy in 2019 and now outside the Foreign Office. I intend to continue for as long as I can or support is needed.
 Sometimes it seems hard to remember a time before the Free Nazanin campaign.
 Richard Ratcliffe is inspiring. In media interviews he displays such dignity, composure, and clarity of focus. Perhaps, it's partly from his profession as an accountant and auditor. The skill at digging into an issue and seeking the truth, bringing it out into the light. But beneath the calmness, there's a deep emotional commitment to the cause of reuniting his family. Will the campaign be sustainable without that?
 A normal family caught up in the sweep of world events. They've had to endure so many setbacks. It's a story of love and hope as much as suffering and injustice. Maybe that's why he's inspired so many people like me to come together, to keep turning up, taking part in things, and staying involved on social media.
 So many strangers have come together and built bonds of friendship, both online and in real life. His work rate is phenomenal, never stopping his campaign. Even days into his hunger strike, giving interviews and speaking with visitors. I have seen him over the last few days, clearly weaker in body but his spirit remains strong. He wastes no opportunity to press his case and work for his wife's freedom.
 I don't [(8:00)] pretend to any expertise, but through Richard's work, I've learned a great deal over the last five years. I'm much more aware of the issue of Hostage Diplomacy, the patterns of its practice, and how corrosive it is. Richard's support of other campaigns has inspired me to support them too.
 All the supporters hope for Nazanin to be able to complete her journey home at last.
 But when that happens, there will still be many others caught in similar traps.
 Through Richard's inspiration, supporting such causes has become part of my life.
 Daren Nair: 

Emi Howell heard about the Free Nazanin Campaign and decided to write a play about Nazanin's plight titled, "Looking for mummy: Nazanin's Story." The play has received great reviews and she has performed it throughout the UK, as well as in front of MPs in Parliament itself.
 Emi Howell: 

I first heard about the plight that Nazanin was going through at January 2017. By that point, it had already been going on for a while. I think the first thing that kind of struck me was how we'd reach this point and I was only just hearing about the injustice and the horrendous condition she was facing. That kind of shocked me that I didn't know about it and that most people I spoke to didn't know about it. It really kind of struck a chord that people weren't aware of what was going on, to the extent that I felt that they really should be.
 So I arranged a meeting with Richard and Gino, just kind of as a to see what I could do to help. We kind of got talking and it kind of snowballed. As I've gone grown with the story, as the story has grown, it continues to inspire me with the absolute horrendous situations that both Richard, Nazanin, and Gabriella have faced and are still facing. [(10:00)] My respect for them has just grown throughout the years, with how they managed to fight and continue fighting and they never give up.
 Daren Nair: 

One of the key supporters of the Free Nazanin Campaign is Nazanin Boniadi. She is a human rights activist, an Amnesty International UK Ambassador, and a Hollywood actress. You may have seen her in Homeland and How I Met Your Mother. She has been campaigning tirelessly for human rights in Iran and around the world.
 Every time a family member of a hostage in Iran comes to me with a press release or a significant update in their case and asked me to share it with journalists as well as influencers on social media, Nazanin is one of the first people I go to and she always helps me out. For that, I am grateful. Here's Nazanin.
 Nazanin Boniadi: 

My name is Nazanin Boniadi. I first learned about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's unjust detention on social media, shortly after her arrest in April 2016. The hashtag Free Nazanin struck me for obvious reasons, but our given names weren't the only thing we had in common. We're both British Iranian women and the same age. Her fate could have just as easily been mine.
 I wrote an op-ed for cnn.com in May 2016 calling for her unconditional release and I haven't stopped campaigning ever since. I first met her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, in September 2017 when we delivered a letter to the UN mission of Iran during the UN General Assembly that year, pleading for Nazanin's release and the return of, then almost three-year-old daughter, Gabriella. I've campaigned alongside him several times since then, both at the UK Parliament and on Capitol Hill.
 To know Richard is to witness the [(12:00)] type of unconditional love that we only read about in fairy tales. His devotion to his wife and his daughter. His tenacity and resilience. His hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles coupled with his constant grace and gentle spirit, not only inspire me to be and do better every day. But they make me believe that justice can prevail, that Nazanin will come home, and that she will be reunited with her family and her loved ones and that there is still some good in this world.
 Daren Nair: 

Nazanin's hostage-taking is one of many human rights abuses perpetrated by the Iranian regime. There are so many more abuses that don't get the same media coverage. Richard has been using his platform to lift while he climbs, to shine a spotlight on these other human rights abuses. Human rights lawyers like Gissou Nia have seen Richard's campaigning and are very grateful.
 Gissou Nia: 

Richard is truly an inspiration. He is an inspiration to me as somebody who seeks to work with the victims and survivors of the Iranian State's human rights violations and atrocity crimes. He's an inspiration to me because of his absolute persistence to seek justice, to seek a positive outcome for his wife Nazanin, but also for the expansive way in which he does his advocacy. He is not only consumed with his personal matters and Nazanin's case but he expends that energy on others as well. I think he sees the common cause among everyone who is suffering, everyone [(14:00)] who has been a victim of the Iranian State's brutality. He sees common cause in that and thinks of super creative and new ways to make sure that these injustices are set right. For me, he really is a personal inspiration even if I don't think I've ever told him this and I probably never communicated this to him. It's just so inspiring to see how he has approached this and that he just has this unending spirit.
 Daren Nair: 

Now, Nazanin is not the only British citizen who has been held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas. In 2018, British academic Matthew Hedges was wrongfully detained in the United Arab Emirates for six months and was subjected to inhumane treatment and solitary confinement which is psychological torture. Richard helped Matt's wife, Daniela Tejada, campaign for his release.
 Daniela Tejada: 

I'm Daniela Tejada, Matthew Hedge's wife and I campaigned for his release in 2018 after he was arbitrarily detained in the UAE. Richard has been one of the biggest sources of energy that I ever encountered throughout my campaign. Even before establishing contact, reading about his and Nazanin's ordeal in the news, wasn't just a reminder that I wasn't the only one going through a similar situation, but that there was hope that
 the government [(16:00)] would listen, hope that the British public would care. But above hope, I think it was just a great reminder of the power of love. The lengths that Richard has gone to for Nazanin and for his daughter were really huge sources of inspiration and huge sources of strength when I felt so incredibly weak. I knew that I had to put up a fight in the same way that Richard has really, throughout these five years and seven months.
 When I finally braced myself to make our situation public, Richard was one of the first few people that reached out to me and offered help. And indeed he did, he offered me incredibly practical advice about people who I should be speaking to, networks that perhaps I hadn't reached out to, that I should consider. Ways of speaking to the Foreign Office that I hadn't tried or perhaps I had, but not exactly to the right person. I think above all he did something that has not been just unique to me. He reminded me like he has done to other families, that we’re not alone and that many others are going through similar situations. When we come together, we actually have a really strong hand against any of our opponents, whether that's a foreign government or our own. Because we can feed off each other's energy, feed off each other's intelligence, networks of information, and [(18:00)] experiences.
 I think, if I could summarize how Richard has helped me, I think it would probably be by creating an incomparable sense of unity with other families and with himself and giving so much of his time and so much of his energy towards the common cause. Because we have to remember that the Free Nazanin Campaign is not just a campaign for Nazanin's release, it's a campaign that really speaks about the rights of so many others whose rights have been violated abroad and whose rights the British government has failed to uphold. I think Richard has helped all of us really in fighting for a cause that is as much unique to him as it is universal to us all.
 Daren Nair: 

State-sponsored hostage-taking, also known as Hostage Diplomacy, is a global problem that requires countries from around the world to come together and put in place a global solution to ensure there is a consequence for the actions of rogue nations that take innocent people like Nazanin hostage. Unfortunately, there is no such solution currently in place. All we have at the moment is a declaration against arbitrary detention, which many countries have signed up to, but all it does really is it just names the problem. It doesn't have much teeth. It's a good first step, but it's not good enough.
 Current hostages and their families aren't in a position to wait until the international community gets its act together. So what Richard and the families of other hostages around the world, as well as their campaigners, have decided to do is to connect with each other, [(20:00)] learn from each other, and work together to free their loved ones. Dr. Kylie Moore-Gilbert is a British Australian academic. She was held hostage in Iran from September 2018 to November 2020. She was released in a prisoner swap. Kylie's colleagues and friends started the Free Kylie Campaign and worked to bring Kylie home. One of the main campaigners was Kylie's colleague, Dr. Dara Conduit.
 Dara Conduit: 

Hi. My name is Dara. I'm a friend and colleague of Dr. Kylie-Moore Gilbert who's an Australian British academic who was held hostage in Iran between September 2018 and November 2020. I was a member of the team that ran the Public Advocacy Campaign for Kylie’s release. We're a group of friends and colleagues of Kylie's who had come together out of concern that nothing's being done. We really struggled with this decision to go public and it was one that we mulled over for a long time. Many of us in the group were Middle East academics. We felt very strongly from the moment that she was taken that there needed to be a public campaign for her release, but the Australian government didn't support this and they advocated for what they called Quiet Diplomacy and subsequently put us under a lot of pressure to stay quiet.
 On top of this pressure from above, we're also terrified that we might cause more harm to Kylie if we said the wrong thing or if there was something that we did if that would cause any further harm to Kylie, I knew that I personally would never sleep at night again. These were key issues that have led us to hold back. But eventually one day, real-life events intervened and the news emerged that Kylie being transferred to Qarchak Prison, which is a prison known as the worst women's prison on Earth. But the Australian government appeared to learn about this transfer after we alerted journalists to pose questions to the Australian government. It took them days to confirm Kylie's location and even longer to gain consular access to confirm that she was safe.
 [(22:00)] It was that moment that we decided we could no longer sit on the fence. Australia dropped the ball on our dear friend's case and we needed to put public pressure on our government to bring her home, and so we went public. This might seem like a really roundabout way of talking about the immense contribution of Richard Ratcliffe has made to our campaign. But I'm talking about this so you can understand the position we were in when we went public, how scared we were of doing harm, and how much pressure we felt from our government. How unclear we were about whether we were actually doing the right thing. These all dissipated the moment Richard Ratcliffe reached out to our campaign.
 Richard is basically the Godfather of the Hostage Campaign Community. He's a fount of knowledge on almost every aspect of it. How the Iranian prison system works. How our home governments work. He's also the node that sits in the middle of all the campaigns, he knows all the families, all the advocates, and all the survivors. He makes sure that we're all in touch so that we can share information and learnings and also learn from one another and support one another. Richard basically provided our campaign’s training on hostage diplomacy. He taught us how the Iranian regime would likely play the game. He would tell us when he heard things along the family grapevines about Kylie so we could feed these concerns back to Kylie's family. He was available any day, any time of the day or night to answer questions as well.
 I think the most important thing he taught me personally was about how our home government's gaslight campaigns. Gaslighting is a strategy that makes someone question their sanity or perception of reality and all the governments do it. We'd flag something we'd heard for example, that Kylie have been moved to Qarchak Prison and the government would either deny it or obfuscate for days until we started to wonder whether we were losing the plot shouting about it. Were we jumping at shadows. Had the Iranian regime finally gotten into our heads. Time after time we are proven to be right, but for days the government strategies sow doubt in us and in journalists in order to buy time for them, for the government, to figure out what was going on.
 They'd also [(24:00)] do things like they constantly assure the media that Kylie was well, even though even in the final few weeks of her ordeal, they kept saying she is well. That seems like a really strange thing, weird language to use because she'd spent more than a year in a solitary confinement. Nobody in that circumstance could be described as well. I mean, she's since told me that those final weeks of her ordeal were the worst of the lot. But the government's gas lighting and this sort of language, "Kylie's well nothing to see here," made us doubt ourselves, particularly when the media ate it up. The media was like, "Or do you think maybe there's a resolution here and is there is something happening," and it made us feel it. Maybe we’re shouting for nothing, was Kylie actually fine and we're were just causing trouble. Were we making things worse for her.
 Then Richard helped us to understand this. He explains that the government's gaslight campaigns to take the heat off themselves and to sow doubt and to send a message there's nothing to see here, situations under control. Kylie, in the end, spent 804 days in prison most of which were in solitary confinement and some of which were in the worst women's prison on Earth. The situation was not under control. It doesn't matter how you try to explain it. Yes, she eventually got out but that situation was far from under control. So once we understood this, it made it so much easier for us to get up day after day and to advocate for our dear friend. Even though sometimes it felt that we were shouting into darkness. Richard gave me the confidence to keep going.
 So, I guess I have endless gratitude for Richard and everything he’s done. Not only out of his unwavering love for Nazanin and his efforts to resolve their own tragic family situation, in the face of, what can only be described as utter incompetence. That's a polite way of saying it on behalf of the British government, but also for what he's given the rest of our campaigns. Richard should never have been an expert in hostage diplomacy. None of us should have, but he's taken that unspeakable pain and he's channeled [(26:00)] it for good.
 In that way, I guess I feel a huge debt to him for everything he did for us and for me, and as long as I live I know, I'll never be able to repay him for that. But I hope he knows that if there's anything at all that I can ever do, if there's any way that I can even repay a small amount of that debt, he just needs to ask and I am there. Thank you Richard for everything you did for us.
 Daren Nair: 

Kylie-Moore Gilbert was held hostage in Iran with another academic, Fariba Adelkhah, who is a French citizen. Unfortunately, Fariba is still being held by the Iranian regime today. Marielle Debos is a key campaigner in the Free Fariba Support Committee. Here she is.
 Marielle Debos: 

My name is Marielle Debos. I'm a member of the Free Fariba Adelkhah Campaign and we want to send Richard all our thoughts and support.
 Fariba Adelkah was arrested in Tehran in June 2019. At that time, there was another French academic, Roland Marchal, was also arrested and then detained in Iran. We set up the support committee to campaign for the release, but at that time we had very little experience. We were basically under shock. Richard has been so helpful and generous. We have actually never met in person, but we exchange, we email and he gave us advice very generous advice. He was really helpful, and he helped us to make sense of this absurd situation, to make sense of this state-sponsored hostage diplomacy.
 Richard has been campaigning for the liberation of his wife, but his struggles mean so much more. It is also a struggle for all those unjustly detained. It's also a struggle basically against the arbitrary and the unjust. This situation is just so unfair. Nazanin shouldn't be deprived of freedom, she's innocent. Richard shouldn't have to go and to do another hunger strike. He shouldn't have to put his life at risk just to put [(28:00)] pressure on the British government. Of course, their daughter Gabrielle, shouldn't have to grow up without her mom.
 I'm based in the US right now, so I can't visit Richard in London, but I want to say to Richard and all the people in the Free Nazanin Campaign that they aren't alone and that there is a community supporting them all around the world. Thank you, Richard. Thank you all.
 Daren Nair: 

Sixty-seven-year-old German citizen, Nahid Taghavi, has been held hostage in Iran since 16 October 2020. Nahid's daughter, Mariam Claren from Cologne in Germany, has been campaigning to free her mother.
 Mariam Claren: 

My name is Mariam Claren and I'm the daughter of German-Iranian hostage, Nahid Taghavi, and founder of the Free Nahid Campaign. My mother was arrested on October 16, 2020. I decided to go public with her case a few days after her arrest. From this time, I'm in touch with Richard Ratcliffe. You guys cannot imagine how helpful Richard's advice were to me. We were standing at the very beginning of my mother's case. She was held in solitary confinement and was under interrogation. We had no idea what is going to happen next. During this time, it was Richard who calmed me when needed and told me about the experiences and what we should expect. His efforts to bring the families of the dual nationals together and campaign for the freedom of our loved ones is one of a kind. But what I appreciate most about Richard are determination and strength.
 Nazanin was taken in 2016, five and a half years ago and Richard is still keeping her case alive. Since he is in [(30:00)] the third week of his hunger strike, I'm very worried about his health but he has my full solidarity. I will have his back and campaign with him until Nazanin is home.
 Daren Nair: 

On 25th May 2019, 30-year-old American citizen, Sam Goodwin, was detained at a Syrian Army checkpoint in the Northeast part of the country. He was held in captivity for 62 days. Now, a free man and back home in the United States, Sam has been working with the families of hostages including Richard to free their loved ones.
 Sam Goodwin: 

Richard, this is Sam Goodwin from the United States. To put things simply, you are an inspiration, to your family, to your country, and to the entire community globally who works on these hostage issues.
 When I was released from Syria, it was overwhelming to learn about all of the people involved in my case and the extraordinary efforts put forth to resolve it. Your perseverance is a remarkable demonstration of this and more. You have the unwavering support of all of us, so don't give up the fight. We can't wait for you, Nazanin, and Gabriella to be reunited.
 Daren Nair: 

No one should have to go on hunger strike to pressure the British government to bring their loved one home. Richard Ratcliffe needs backup. He needs good caring people like us to show up and help him reunite his family.
 Keep sharing Nazanin's story with everyone you know. Keep contacting your MPs, calling on them to pressure the government to bring Nazanin home. Let's show 7-year-old Gabriella Ratcliffe that there is a world of care out there. Let's help free her mother, Nazanin. 
 Thank you for listening and take care.