As the world celebrates Nazanin’s release, let’s not forget those still in prison

As the world celebrates Nazanin’s release, let’s not forget those still in prison

A version of this article, written by Article18’s News Director Steve Dew-Jones, was first published on

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is finally on her way back to the UK. (Photo: Twitter @TulipSiddiq)

After nearly six years’ unjust detention, it finally seems as though this is the end of the ordeal for British-Iranian political prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family.

But while the world rightly celebrates Nazanin’s hard-won freedom, let us not forget those who still remain in detention as a result of equally absurd convictions.

Among them are at least a dozen Christian converts serving terms of imprisonment or internal exile only because of their change of religious belief and subsequent membership of underground house-churches.

And as the personal tragedies of these and many other prisoners of conscience go on, perhaps the hardest thing to reconcile is to know that while some like Nazanin become household names, for many others their own sufferings remain largely unknown.

Take Mehdi Akbari, for example.

When Mehdi, who prefers to be called Yasser, lost his only son in December while he languished in prison, how many others mourned with him?

At least one of his fellow prisoners did, another lesser-known prisoner of conscience by the name of Anoosheh Ashoori, who is also now flying home alongside Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, though with less fanfare.

During his more than four and a half years in prison, this 68-year-old British-Iranian became a personal friend of Yasser’s.

But how many have even previously heard the names of either of these men, let alone would be able to recognise their photographs?

Why is it that some prisoners of conscience become household names, while others endure similar torment in near-total anonymity.

Yasser’s son, Amin Ali, passed away in December.

So while of course it is right to celebrate Nazanin’s long-awaited release, and to celebrate it long and hard, let us not forget those whose stories are less well-known.

There are many more prisoners of conscience who choose to remain silent, in the hope that this will one day help their case. Let us think, too, of them. Let us stand up for them, and continue to speak out on behalf of those who have chosen the path of silence, however lonely that must be.

And, perhaps most importantly, let us not make the mistake of attributing Nazanin’s release to any kindness or “clemency” on the part of the Islamic Republic, whatever their mouthpieces may say, or not say, about it.

Let us count the immense cost that prisoners of conscience – whether known or unknown – have paid and continue to pay at the hands of a regime that only ever has its own interests in mind.

Whatever the reasons for Nazanin’s long-overdue release, be certain that the Islamic Republic believes it to be of most ultimate benefit to itself.

Finally, let us never neglect to remember the extraordinary suffering that ordinary people like Nazanin, Anoosheh and Yasser have been forced to endure.

Let us tell their stories to others. Let us be their voice.

Nazanin has already spoken about the immense psychological torture she faced in detention, and the bewilderment of first realising she had been detained, having done nothing wrong. 

And who can imagine what it must have been like to have been forcibly separated for six long years from her husband and daughter, who hadn’t even grown any teeth before her mother’s incarceration and is now seven years old. 

So let us rejoice with Nazanin, Anoosheh and their families, and celebrate their joyous reunions, but let us also remember others. Let us continue to count the cost, and to speak up on behalf of those whose voices have been muted, or even silenced.