LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A British playwright who has used the stage to highlight the separation of an imprisoned British-Iranian charity worker from her young daughter said on Tuesday she hoped a national tour of the production would motivate women to push for her release.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard while on a family holiday in April last year and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment, a charge denied by her family and the Foundation.
She was sentenced to five years in prison but Iranian authorities re-opened her case this week, adding charges that carry an additional 16 years in jail.
The play, “Looking for Mummy: Nazanin’s Story”, focuses on the separation of Zaghari-Ratcliffe from her daughter Gabriella who was taken from her after her arrest and is living with her grandparents in Iran.
Gabriella, who was just 22 months old when her mother was detained, is only able to visit her in Tehran’s Evin Prison twice a week.
Dramatist Emi Howell said she was so distressed to read about Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s plight she decided to write a play to raise awareness.
“I was really shocked when I heard about what had happened. The way Nazanin has been treated is incredibly cruel,” Howell told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of a performance in London on Tuesday night.
“I come from a very close-knit family and I couldn’t imagine being in that situation, or my sisters being in that situation. And if I was in that situation I’d want everyone to know.”
Howell, who directs and performs in “Looking for Mummy”, said Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s separation from her daughter, now three, amounted to “psychological torture”.
“The letters she has written to Gabriella are heartbreaking. There are promises they will be together and there are promises of what they will do in the future,” Howell said.
“Children grow so fast when they are young. Nazanin is missing all the firsts - the first words, the first time her daughter eats a specific food - she’s missing these moments.”
Howell said other women Zaghari-Ratcliffe is locked up with have also been separated from their children.
“I understand one woman hasn’t even spoken to her children for a year and a half, let alone seen them,” she added.
Howell said she had heard via Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard that other women at Evin were keen to have their stories told.
“The play keeps evolving. We are broadening it out and looking at including some of the other women’s stories. All these women are being held for political reasons,” she said.
“Looking for Mummy” was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in August and will be staged in London in the coming weeks before a UK tour next year.
On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said progress in the relationship between London and Tehran would depend on some extent on the resolution of Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case.
Iran refuses to recognize dual nationals and denies them access to consular assistance.
Reporting by Emma Batha. Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.