Nazanin is a British charity worker and mother, arrested on holiday while visiting her family with our 22-month-old daughter, Gabriella, who was herself allowed to return to Britain only last month. Nazanin is one of a number of innocent people Iran is holding hostage to use as diplomatic leverage in disputes with Britain, the United States, France and others.
The Iran hostage crisis that began 40 years ago this week, when radical Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, is now over. But for us, the crisis is ongoing.
Our experience is a profound cruelty. The isolation and interrogations, the threats and torture Nazanin has endured — which I describe in the video above — are spectacularly unfair, judged illegal by the United Nations and others. Even after she is released, it will take us a long time to mend.
But alongside the cruelty, we have experienced overwhelming kindness from ordinary people. Our online petition has received 2.5 million supporters. We received thousands of visitors this year in front of the Iranian Embassy in London, where I was on hunger strike in solidarity with Nazanin’s own hunger strike in prison.
With human rights campaigns, there can be a risk of campaigner hagiography. I am aware that much of the support for my family stems from our position of privilege. I am middle class and white, and have an accent like a BBC presenter. If I worked in a kebab shop, this might be different, a story seen or heard just once before the carousel moves on.
Yet ours is not just one family’s story. The Iranian regime is in the middle of a new wave of hostage taking. Three new British cases were announced in recent months. For example, Anoosheh Ashoori, a 65-year-old retired engineer with no political connections, was looking forward to spending retirement with his wife and helping his children, but was arrested during a routine visit to Iran to check on his mother. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. There are many other U.S. and European families that are traumatized for years.
Hostage cases are not solved just through public campaigning, but through political will. So far, our governments have failed. Our case has been allowed to linger for over three and a half years. There are innocent U.S. citizens who have been held for longer. Other political priorities and point scoring have been allowed to take precedence.
The British and U.S. governments have an obligation to protect their own citizens and to work with allies and the United Nations to bring an end to Iran’s hostage taking. And the world has an obligation, not just to stand up for Nazanin, but to stand up for human rights.