Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe tells of her prison trauma

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was sentenced to five years in an Iranian jail on false charges


It could have hardly been more timely for a synagogue to hold an event about the ordeal of a hostage.

But when Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian national who was held captive in Iran for six years, spoke at Hampstead Synagogue on Sunday night — just as another trickle of hostages were being released from Gaza by Hamas terrorists — it was an “incredibly resonant” moment, said its rabbi, Dr Michael Harris.

It was the first event of its kind that she and her husband Richard had done in their local neighbourhood since she was freed in March 2022 after being imprisoned on concocted charges of spreading propaganda against the Iranian regime.

Rabbi Harris had reached out to her husband during his long campaign to press the British government to secure his wife’s freedom and Mr Ratcliffe acknowledged that many in the synagogue audience had supported it.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe wiped away a tear as Rabbi Harris recalled the yellow ribbons that had been tied around trees in a local park to commemorate her first year in prison and said that he had “longed for you to be back in the area with us”. Echoing this, the yellow ribbon is now being used as a symbol to campaign for the release of hostages still held in Gaza.

The world Zaghari-Ratcliffe came back to was very different from the one she had left behind when she went on holiday to Iran, where her parents lived, she said. The Covid pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine took place in the years between her arrest and her release. But Zaghari-Ratcliffe said she felt privileged that she was now recognised in the street when “there are so many people in the world who are captive, and people don’t know their names or their stories”.

It was widely believed that her imprisonment was linked to a near £400million debt owed to Iran by the UK over an arms deal.

When the Iranians started trying to manipulate Zaghari-Ratcliffe by getting her to put pressure on her husband, it became clear to her “that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I was just a pawn in the hands of the Iranian and the British governments, if I am honest.

“That’s what makes me very angry and also very anxious when I hear that someone is taken as hostage… You don’t know why you’re arrested, and you don’t know when you are going to be free. And in between these two, [they] can do anything to you just because they want something off you.”

But her ordeal had made “a better person” of her, she confided. “Being in prison made me aware of people’s pain.”

She spoke movingly of the resilience and bonds she had shared with her fellow inmates, who included this year’s Nobel Peace Laureate, the human rights activist Narges Mohammadi.

Listening to her parents in the front row was nine-year-old Gabriella, who had been 22 months when the Iranian authorities had seized her mother. She had stayed with her grandparents for some years before her parents took the decision that Gabriella would be better off returning home to the UK in 2019.

While thoughts of family had helped to sustain her, Zaghari-Ratcliffe said that it was also her religious faith that had “saved me, especially when I was in solitary confinement”.

And on a note of optimism, she had subsequently come to understand what one of her friends in prison had advised her. “The good thing about human beings is that they forget bad things,” she told the audience.

“And only the good things, in the end, stick in your mind… If you wanted to remember everything bad in the world, you would go mad.”

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