A LIGHTED candle in Emmanuel Church, Hampstead, in north-west London, has been a constant reminder of one prisoner and captive since 2016: the parishioner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was jailed in Iran almost five years ago (News, 24 June 2016).
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the charitable arm of the media company Thomson Reuters, is nearing the end of serving her sentence for crimes concerning plotting to overthrow the Iranian government: charges that she has always denied. She is currently under house arrest, and wears an ankle tag that prevents her going outside.
Her husband, Richard, who has campaigned for her release, still lives in the family home in London. Their young daughter, Gabriella, now six years old, who had been in Iran with her mother at the time of her arrest, now attends a London primary school.
The Vicar of Emmanuel Church, West Hampstead, the Revd Jonathan Kester, said that the church had kept a candle burning in front of a picture of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family throughout her prison term, and that she was prayed for each day.
“The whole local community and the congregation have taken the Ratcliffe family to their hearts. Members of the church have supported the campaign for her release throughout, and we will keep pressing the Government to do more to secure her release.
“We continue to offer pastoral support for Richard and the wider family, and we hope our candle keeps her name and case alive in people’s hearts and minds.”
The church has held several events to raise support for her case, including “Knit for Nazanin”, to create chain links to mark her days in prison.
The former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who provided Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe with diplomatic protection, spoke out over Christmas to criticise the Government’s lack of action over her case. He said that the UK was “beginning to look weak” for its failure to protect her and secure her release.
Writing in The Times on 29 December, he said: “We must show the world that if you imprison a British citizen on trumped-up charges you will pay a very heavy price because Britain is a major player on the world stage and intends to remain one.
“Allowing ourselves to be pushed around like this at the moment of post-Brexit renewal sends the opposite signal.”
His comments came as the Foreign Office announced that British citizens who are wrongfully arrested and tortured overseas will have “no legal right to consular assistance” or protection from the State.
In a letter to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyers, the Government said that it was under no legal obligation to provide assistance to citizens who were falsely accused of a crime while travelling with a British passport.
The Foreign Office did intervene successfully in November, however, when Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was forced back to court to face new charges, demanding that she not be sent back to prison.
Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe holds dual British-Iranian nationality.