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tv   Nazanin Zaghari- Ratcliffe Talks...  BBC News  May 28, 2022 5:30pm-6:01pm BST

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brokered her release. since being charged with plotting to overthrow the iranian regime in 2016, her story has always been told by others, whether it be her tirelessly campaigning husband, richard... we talked about it. we said how unacceptable it is and she needs to be released urgently. we'll look at what nazanin zaghari—ratcliffe. .. ..or incorrect comments from politicians. she was simply teaching people journalism, as i understand it. in this exclusive interview, nazanin tells her own story, and in her own words. nazanin, it is so lovely to be with you in person and to be able to talk with you today. thank you so much for coming to talk. what can you remember about the day of your arrest?
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i went to iran on march 17th 2016 to take my baby girl, to show her to my family, and that wasn't the first time that she was going to iran. but we would always go for nowruz holiday, which is the new year in iran, purely because the city is empty, the weather is nice and especially the holiday season. but also, the two weeks that i was in iran, everywhere was closed and we felt like it's a good time to hang out with family. while i was coming out of iran, at the airport in tehran, i was arrested without being told what was the problem. theyjust said, there is something wrong about your passport, and, of course, my daughter was 22 months old, very little. where did she go when you were arrested in the airport? my parents were inside the airport with me and i was queuing up for the check—in, so i gave the baby to them.
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they told me, you are going to be released in the morning, so everything is going to be fine, it's just a couple of questions, which it wasn't. i did not know where i was. they didn't talk. they didn't tell me that i was actually kept in evin. so this is evin prison in tehran. this is in tehran. and then the following morning i was flown to kerman, which is a city in the southern part of iran, and i was kept there for about 64 days in solitary confinement. i was interrogated. that is where i realised that they have kept me for something which i haven't done. from there, i was transferred to tehran, to evin, and i was there forjust under seven months in solitary confinement. may i ask... of course, i'm very mindful of how difficult this must be to talk about, but being in solitary confinement for that amount of time, in itself, would have been extraordinary, on your mind, on how you were feeling, how you were coping.
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how were you thinking about what was happening to you? were you thinking, "i've been on holiday. "there mustjust be a misunderstanding here. "it will get sorted very soon."? yes. so, i need to mention that, when i was arrested, i was still breast—feeding. as a mother who is still within the phase of breast—feeding, all that was on my head was my baby. and your body must have also been physically aching... exactly. ..when you are suddenly stopped from breast—feeding. exactly. i was kept in this locked—up room without even being told what is happening around me, and i was confident they have arrested the wrong person because... that's what you were thinking. that is exactly what i'm thinking now, after six years, that they took my child away from me. and this is the government that talks a lot about motherhood and family.
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but there i was a victim of something which was exactly the opposite. that was horrifying. solitary confinement, in my opinion, is the most hostile, quiet form of torture. the fact that i was kept in a cell, which was one by two metres, with the door locked all the time, there was no window, you lose sense of time. was there a light? the light was on all the time... even at night? ..even at night—time. that is why you lose sense of time because i think solitary confinement works in a way that they can mess your mind up in a way to break you. but there are people who have been in solitary for a lot longer than i have been. there is a reason they keep people in solitary, and that is to force them to confess to the things they haven't done, and that works. how did you survive, nazanin? i think it was my faith more
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than anything else that helped me. there were times that i thought, "it is breaking me." but then there was one thing that i would like to mention, that is the love of my daughter. so the number of times i thought about how it would have been had i been with her at that moment, and cuddling her and kissing her, and also i went through kind of the guilty feelings of maybe i was not a good mother to my child. you know, like i say, it plays random, strange games with your mind. and you said about your faith as well. was that something you expected to be that bigger part of your coping mechanism, or was it something you found yourself reaching for? i think that is exactly what happened. so i was born in a traditionally religious family, but i was not a practising kind of person in terms of my religion. and we're talking about being a muslim when we talk about that?
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yes. but then i felt like, this is very, very strong inside me and maybe god is testing me, in a way. but my faith went a lot deeper and a lot stronger throughout solitary. i think also, gabriella — of course, the pain being apart, but also the strength to try to get back to her must have been such a key part of this, because she is also a major victim in what has happened to you. one of the things that i was confident that this is not going to take for a long time was, it is not acceptable anywhere in the world that you separate the mother and the baby. and because, in my story, a baby was involved, i was confident there and then and along the way that they are going to have mercy. whatever the agenda was, there is a baby involved. 0k, they might have problems with me, but not with my child.
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no. but that was not the case. and your parents were having to look after her... exactly. ..at home in iran. and, while a huge source of upset and distress for you, she was also a source of comfort, i understand, because she could come and visit you once and then twice a week, once you were out of solitary. in solitary, the visits were sporadic and not routine. but, when i moved to the general ward, one of the things that we were always looking forward to was the visits. it was considered as a weak point, so they knew that, if they were going to cancel the visits... it was a power... exactly. it was a way that they knew women would be angry and frustrated if they cut down the calls or the visits. so they were using that in that way to put pressure on everyone as well. there was this constant battle to get your rights. it sounds like, as women, you worked together, you formed friendships and bonds to try to have rights but also, of course, to survive together.
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exactly. i think there is one thing about the women wards and that is the solidarity. so women were building a life inside the walls to remind themselves that there is a life outside the walls. so there was a lot of getting together and doing things in groups. we had knitting, we had sewing, we had yoga, we would cook together. so cooking was part of the everyday routine, but also teaching each other things. so we had people who would teach us philosophy and talk about it. we had a gynecologist in prison who would talk about female problems... that sounds quite useful to know. exactly. so whoever had any skill... would share it. ..would share it. did you impart any? i think i was there long enough. towards the end, i was teaching different things, like leather work, yoga. you were teaching yoga? wow!
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sewing. i did spend a lot of time sewing, and that is actually one thing that i took refuge when i came out and the ankle tag. and, when you did get to see gabriella, how were those visits? were you allowed to, i don't know, draw together and read and have some of those things together? because i imagine you'd want to plan that time. so gabriella was the youngest of the kids of the mothers in the ward, and the next child was about eight—years—old. she was two, two—and—a—half when i was moved to the general ward. it was heartbreaking to see a child as young as that come to see her mother. so they would allow us to use crayons and pen and paper and we would make origami quite often. but, for me, it was more about to think what i would want to do with her... yes, to plan. ..during the visit time, to make her feel good about the visit. but then, of course,
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the mind works in a way that, the moment the visit starts, you're thinking about the end of it, and then you have to wait for another week to see her. you can't actually enjoy that moment. exactly. because she was such a source of strength for you, if you had known this was going to be nearly six years of having to get through this, day after day after day, i mean, could you have coped with that? could you have even processed that? i have been thinking about it for a very long time, that it's a good thing that we don't know what the future is bringing for us because, had i known on that day that i'm going to be in prison forfive years and then one extra year in iran, banned to leave the country, i would havejust dropped dead. i don't think i could survive. but also, on the other hand, i was telling a very, very dear friend of mine that human being is tough, you know, is tenacious, is resilient.
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but it amazes me how, if you come out of it, how stronger you will be. and i think that is what happened to me. it is a story of survival, you know, as much as anything else. yeah. and i also think it's important for people to know, because it has gone on for so long, your story, that, with regards to gabriella, she came back to the uk to live with richard, with her daddy, in 2019... yes. ..and those visits, of course, then were over and you didn't then see her until very recently, until you were freed. yes. what was the reason behind that decision, and how did that leave you? it was a very, very difficult decision, difficult in a way that gabriella was the source of my survival in prison. yes. but also, by then, she couldn't speak english, so she had to... she couldn't communicate with her daddy. and then it was time to go to school. so we decided that we would send her so that, at least,
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she will be with one of us and pick up the language and then go to school. there was a major moment from one of our politicians here in the uk, the then foreign secretary, borisjohnson. in 2017, he was giving evidence to the foreign affairs select committee. that was the year after you were detained and imprisoned, and he talked about you training journalists in iran, which was incorrect. it was used by the iranian regime as proof that you weren't on holiday, which you were, and that you were working in some way against iran. he later apologised for those comments. did your life get worse after those remarks? did it change in any way? so, i met the prime minister... very recently, we should say, for the first time. ..for the first time, and i explained to him that ijust wanted him to know that his comment, which was not correct, lived with me for the following four—and—a—half years of my life.
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the revolutionary guards will build a story, so they would find different evidence to feed into it. yes. his comment fed very, very well within that story that they were building. so, for about a year—and—a—half, i was trying to say, look, i was on holiday. everywhere was closed. i have come with a baby with a suitcase full of nappies and, you know, baby toys and clothes... to see your parents. exactly. there is no evidence that i was here to work. but then, when he made that comment, the revolutionary guard, every time after that, when i stood trial, when the new case opened, they said, "you have been hiding information from us. "we know that you're a spy. "we know what you were up to. "even your prime minister mentioned that." so i lived under the shadow of his comment, psychologically and emotionally, for the following four—and—a—half years after that day. and i think the revolutionary guard
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jumped on the idea that, 0k, so now we can feed that very well, the narrative. into that story. and that's what they did. when he apologised and when he clarified that, you know, in the house of commons, he said — he apologised for any distress caused to you and your family, stating the uk government had no doubt you were on holiday. that was just a few days later. mm—hm. did that make that go away in any way? no, no. you can't undo that? you can't undo that. we are talking about a regime that one of the highest members of the authority once said, "we are proud to be taking a couple "of hostages every year to make money out of them." so that is the idea, that is the ideology. it's a strategy. they arrest us to make something out of us. they are taking me to get something off the british government. they were very, very clear about it. i think it was week two that i was arrested. they said that...
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"we want something off the british government. "we will not let you go until we get that." and then they gradually developed the story and it was a lot clearer. you were told, as you said, very quickly, actually, this was about something else completely. and that thing is an historic debt of £400 million, that the uk's owed iran since 1979, when the uk sold 1,500 tanks to iran. but later, the order was cancelled and the uk did not refund the money. i should also add, that money was finally paid in march of this year — at the same time as your release. you know, a lot of people don't know, necessarily, that detail. but you knew that detail. how does that make you feel? i think my arrest and my ordeal was an open—ended sentence and an open—ended abuse. and i should say that the foreign office has never confirmed the link still between — yes, the money was paid at the same
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time as you were released, but they haven't confirmed the link between the two, despite what you have been told by the regime. did borisjohnson confirm it to you when you met with him? did he say this was never about anything you did? he did mention, he said that it was about the debt. and how important was that for you and your family to hear that? i think, for me, there were times that i was very, very, very angry. but then, once i accepted the fact that it is what it is, there is very little i can do to change it, i had to come to terms with what had happened to me. just like when somebody is hit by a car or when somebody gets cancer, you can't blame why that happened to you. i am almost powerless in changing it. but also, when i went to see the prime minister,
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ijust wanted him to know what has happened to me, what it looked like. because nothing can change that. no. i have lost that six years of my life and my child's life. there is nothing that can make that up for me. can i take those years back? i don't think so. i can't still look at my daughter's baby pictures. there was about... about... like a huge amount of videos and pictures that my family had taken from her when she was away from me. ijust couldn't, ijust still can't go through them. you can't? i just can't. i had a lot of her baby toys and baby clothes in iran, collected to be shipped back with me to london, and they finally arrived. i couldn't open. so there is this legacy, the emotional legacy that will stay with me forever. but also, one thing that makes me feel not that angry is at least my story had
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a happy ending. so we have many people who were left behind. so ifi... i cannot begin to tell you how i felt that day, when i realised that morad was not on the flight with us. so morad is morad tahbaz. yes. is the iranian—american british hostage. we were assuming that anoosheh, me and morad would be on the same flight. and anoosheh was with you, we'll just say that as well. anoosheh was with me. so you thought it would be the three of you? i thought that i would see both of them at the airport. couldn't see morad. but i tried to think what morad would have felt at the time that he realised that he was left behind. there is this kind of pain that you cannot even begin to imagine. no human being should be attached to international agreements. you know, we should make them separate. with regards to iran, i'm also just aware that that is your home country, your place of birth. it's, of course, where you still have family and many friends and links.
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is there any way that it could ever be made up to you by the regime, or any route back for you and your home country? i don't think so. so, when i got on the plane on that day that i was coming home, it was a very, very bittersweet feeling because i knew i'm finally released, but i also knew i will never be able to go back to iran. you cannot take away the basic rights of human beings, and that is to see your mum and dad, to see yourfamily. you know, something might happen to your parents and they might get ill or whatever, you might want to go. you cannot take their basic rights away from them because iran is a hostage—taking country. in my opinion, it's a very anti—human rights decision to tell people, "don't go to iran." it is almost forgetting the main problem, but then focusing on... yes. ..not being able to solve it. so, when you found out you were going to be released and, i mean, i don't know, did you believe it? no.
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right. i did not believe until such time that i got on the plane. i was taken by the revolutionary guards to the airport. i did not see my parents. instead, i was made to sign the false confession — at the airport, in the presence of the british government, whereas... can we just pause on that? so before you left iran? before i left iran, at the airport. you had to... i had to sign it. otherwise you wouldn't have been able to leave? they told me that you won't be able to get on the plane. and i knew that that was like a last—minute game, because i knew — they told me that they have been given the money. so what is the point of making me sign a piece of paper, which is incorrect? it's a false confession. so all the things they had been accusing you of? exactly. and also, the british government not questioning it, why i have to do it. so a british official was with you when you signed that? she was with me, yeah. but also, the whole thing was filmed. right. the whole thing of me signing
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the false confession was filmed. they enjoy showing how scary they are and the desperation of people. so it's a tool of power, as well? it's a tool. so i'm sure they will show that some day. of you signing a confession? of me signing it, even though it was under duress, and ijust want to... to put it here... 0n the record ? 0n the record, that all the false confessions that we have been exposed to — they have no value. they arejust propaganda for the iranian regime to show how scary they are and they can do whatever they want to do. but it must have been something you felt that you just did not want to do, having fought and protested and known your innocence? it is dehumanising, in my opinion. yes. if you force someone to sign something that, first of all, i have finished my sentence, but also i haven't done it. well, that's the biggest point. why would i sign something i have been trying very,
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very hard for the past six years to say, i have not done it? we did ask the foreign office for a statement about the confession, and there was nothing said specifically in response about it. but what was said was that "iran put nazanin zaghari—ratcliffe. — this is from a spokesperson — "..through an horrendous ordeal, "right up to the moment she left the country. "throughout that time, the uk government was working tirelessly "to end her unfair detention. "but it was always in iran's gift to release nazanin "and to allow her to return to the family." what was that moment like? i was very relieved. very, very happy. at the same time, still not believing that it was happening. even on the plane? even on the plane. and i think i had waited for such a long time for that moment that i could not differentiate the reality with my dream. that was my dream coming true. but i couldn't understand whether it's real. i still wake up — today
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is day 61 of my freedom — i still wake up thinking, is that true? do you? and i think it was a very, very, very long time to just think that maybe this is not going to happen at all. it was a very, very happy moment. you were whisked off to a safe house — you, richard and gabriella — and i was trying to think about this being... being a three again. mm—hm. you know, there's a rhythm to it, there's a feeling in a family. how was that, that first night together and, you know, since? those first nights were like a holiday. it didn't... i don't think i will ever be able to explain the feeling of three of us. but also, i knew that my return journey was never going to be rosy. it would've been difficult because
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six years is a very long time. we change. i was not expecting to come back to what i left six years before. i'd changed, my husband had changed. baby is eight now — not a baby any more. so i was ready to come back to something which was very, very different. how is it now? calming down a bit. ithink i... i go through phases. i think i have given myself longer time to recover. but i've left many, many friends behind. yes. i do believe that the meaning of freedom is not complete until they are out. is there anything that sort of has had a moment for you where, you know, getting, trying to get back to some sense of normality where you've thought, ok, this is...this is how it could be? i don't know, the school run, or i remember richard saying that you really wanted him to make you a cup of tea, for instance. he did, he did make a cup of tea. i hope that cup of tea was good, it was up to standard! yes, it was good, it was good.
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but i imagine there are just moments of pure mundanity, really, of family life, which you are just taking in all the time? yeah, i... ifind myself a lot less energetic than i used to be. right. so socialising is a bit of a struggle for me. but also, every day, there is one thing, one little thing in the house — a picture, a memory of the past — that throws me back to where i was. and i don't think i have quite managed to close that and just move on, and i don't think i will be able to. of course, a big part of life often, usually, is planning, thinking of the future, what you want to do, how it works. you haven't had that luxury. what do you feel you've been robbed of in not being able to plan and proceed? i had to change the meaning of that for myself in order to be able to cope with it.
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so i convinced myself that if we live in a way that we don't — we only have today, we don't have tomorrow, then life is a lot easier. yes. from the moment i was basically abducted at the airport, i had a five—year plan, as everybody else does, you know, to have a second child, to do this, to go on so—and—so course. we were going on a holiday to italy that summer and we had just moved into this flat. none of them happened — even now. i mean, six years on, i'm still in the same place that i was six years ago. so it's like it's been frozen. i remember i also had a chat with richard on the phone, saying that, "nobody�*s doing anything for me", not knowing that he's running this massive campaign. and i think i wouldn't have come home without the public care and public support. and i only found out when i came back.
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still, after two months of freedom, we still receive cards that say, "to nazanin zaghari—ratcliffe, north london." and it gets there? and then, "postman, can you please get it "to her because we don't know her address?", which is — and then it reaches us, which is fascinating. the power of that support and that love, it obviously means a lot. i did also think that when it was described, i believe by tulip siddiq, your local mp, that richard had set the standard for husbands everywhere with his campaign... that's true. ..that you were not possibly aware of how big it really was. is there anything you wanted to say to him or about him? because it's, you know, especially very recently, that hunger strike that he did outside the foreign office — people were really worried about him, as well. i think our story was a story of love more than anything else. i've got so much respect for him. i've got so much gratitude, and i think i will never be able to thank him enough. but also it makes me think,
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"do i deserve all that?" and i hope i do. it has been an amazing journey for both of us. if anything, our love has got a lot deeper. we have gained so much, we have lost a lot more. but the mind of human beings works in a way that you, thankfully, gradually forget the bad things... yes. ..and you remember the good things. so i would like to hold onto the idea that my love has got a lot deeper than before. nazanin, thank you so much. thank you. thank you very much.
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