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Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Nasrin Sotoudeh and the plight of female prisoners in Iran

On Sunday 13 September, with just over six months left of her original sentence, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was due to face a trial on new charges which authorities suddenly postponed with no explanation and no date set, leaving her in traumatic uncertainty.

Also on Sunday, friends and family of Kylie Moore-Gilbert, a dual UK and Australian academic jailed in Iran, came out in support for her release and to mark the second anniversary of her detention. She is facing 10 years in prison on espionage charges.

Meanwhile, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer currently serving a 38-year sentence, is on her sixth week of a hunger strike to call attention to political prisoners who have not only been arbitrarily detained, but who are also at grave risk of contracting Covid-19.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: “I can’t take it anymore”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested in Tehran in April 2016 and sentenced to five years in prison over allegations of ‘plotting against the Iranian government’. Earlier this year, she was given temporary leave from prison because of the coronavirus outbreak and was told that official clemency would be considered. 

But with just over six months left of her five-year jail sentence, Iranian state media said, on 6 September, that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe would face a new, unspecified, charge. 

The UK Foreign Office condemned the news: 

“Iran bringing new charges against Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is indefensible and unacceptable. We have been consistently clear that she must not be returned to prison.”

Nazanin was due to be in court to face the new charge yesterday, on 13 September, when the trial was suddenly postponed at the last minute. 

The Foreign Office said: 

“We welcome the deferral of this groundless court hearing, and call on Iran to make Nazanin’s release permanent.”

Richard Ratcliffe, Nazanin’s husband, said she was being subjected to a form of psychological torture. Speaking to The Times, he said Nazanin had told him that she “wanted to scream out loud for ten minutes, or to bang my head against the wall” after the hearing had been postponed with no explanation and no date set. She told him:

“I can’t take it anymore. They have all these games and I have no power in them. Sometimes I am just full of anger ready to explode. I find myself hating everything in this life, including myself. There is no escape.”

Watch IOHR’s interview with Mr Ratcliffe.

“Run for Kylie”

Friends, colleagues and supporters staged ‘Run for Kylie’ events across Australia on Sunday 13 September because during her time in prison, Kylie Moore-Gilbert has tried to keep running wherever possible, even in rubber slippers and while confined to a tiny prison cell, or a narrow exercise yard.

“We love Kylie very much and we remain strong and far from losing hope,” Moore-Gilbert’s family said in a statement.

“For those who also know and love Kylie, they will recognise her fortitude and strength. We know this strength remains with her throughout this ordeal.”

Ms Moore-Gilbert is a dual UK and Australian lecturer in Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne and was arrested after speaking at an academic conference in Iran in 2018. She is facing 10 years in prison on espionage charges and the ‘Run for Kylie’ campaign marks her second anniversary in detention.

On hunger strike

Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is currently serving a 38-year sentence for her work defending, especially women’s, civil and political liberties. Among her charges were “encouraging prostitution” for advocating against compulsory hijab and defending citizens’ right to peaceful dissent.

On 10 August, six weeks ago, she started a hunger strike to call attention to political prisoners in Iran who are not only behind bars unjustly, but who are also at grave risk of contracting COVID-19 in Iran’s overcrowded and unhygienic prisons. 

Since then, her health has deteriorated. In an interview with the US-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Sotoudeh’s husband Reza Khandan said that she “has become extremely weak and her physical condition is not well.”

Hadi Ghaemi, Executive Director of the CHRI, said:

“Nasrin Sotoudeh is risking death in order to break through the Iranian authorities’ refusal to release political prisoners who are falling ill from the COVID-19 virus spreading through Iran’s prisons.” 

Last week, a number of prominent global artists, actors and authors united to call for Ms Sotoudeh and all political prisoners’ release. Among the people joining the campaign was Olivia Colman, J.K. Simmons, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Juliet Stevenson, Nazanin Boniadi, Shirin Neshat, Nina Ansary, Azar Nafisi, Maz Jobrani and Simon Rix.

“We call on people across the world to join us in this grassroots online protest to #FreeNasrin and post their pictures of solidarity on their social media platforms,” 

the group said in a joint statement.

“I’m proud to stand with Nasrin and call for her release as she risks everything to stand for dignity and justice in Iran,” 

added the Oscar-winning actress Colman, who narrated the upcoming documentary, Nasrin, about the prominent human rights attorney.

The torture of female prisoners

According to the Women’s Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) female political prisoners are being insulted, harassed, brutalized, and tortured by prison authorities.

The NCRI provided Iran Focus a list of  imprisoned women and what happened to them. 

According to Iran Focus, political prisoner Fatemeh Mosanna 

“was taken to Taleghani Hospital in Tehran on August 19, after falling unconscious in Evin Prison and previously having coronavirus symptoms. She had been cuffed and shackled to the bed ever since, on the orders of special prosecutor Amin Vaziri, as well as denied visits from her children.”

Maryam Zobaidi, 53, is married with four children. She was “arrested in March 2018 along with two of her sons. Her son Benjamin Albu Ghabish, was killed under torture in June 2019.”

Nejat Anvar Hamidi, 62, was arrested in 2017 and sentenced in 2019 to five years in prison “for supporting the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK). Since then, she has been suffering from acute eye problems and might lose her eyesight, and she has caught the coronavirus. She was previously imprisoned in 1981 for 2 years and 4 months.”

Sakineh Segour, 35, is married with two children. She was “interrogated while pregnant and gave birth in shackles and handcuffs, while covered in blood.” Elaheh Darvishi, 20, was also arrested when she was pregnant and forced to give birth in prison.

According to Iran Focus, 

“the vast majority were tortured under interrogation, even though some of them were pregnant at the time. To make matters worse, in violation of international and even the regime’s own law, the prisoners are not separated by their crimes, which means that political prisoners are kept amongst violent offenders.”


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