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Enter The Corbyn: How A Briton Scored A PR Coup Against The Islamic Republic

UK Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn visiting Richard Ratcliffe who was on a hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London for his imprisoned wife. June 24, 2019
UK Labor Leader Jeremy Corbyn visiting Richard Ratcliffe who was on a hunger strike outside the Iranian embassy in London for his imprisoned wife. June 24, 2019

For 14 nights he camped outside the Iranian embassy in London attracting media attention around the world and well-wishers from across the UK, including 100 members of parliament from different political parties.

His tent even received mail after postal workers sent him a letter.

On Saturday Nazanin ended her hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison, prompting Richard Ratcliffe to stop his, which he had taken up in solidarity.

They both wish to maintain their health for the sake of their daughter Gabriella, who is being raised by Nazanin’s parents in Tehran.

Nazanin may not be free – she was arrested by Iranian intelligence while visiting her family in 2016 and later sentenced to five years on spying charges widely believed to be baseless – but Richard can claim a victory in finally winning the enthusiastic support of Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labor party.

Corbyn is respected by the leadership of Islamic Republic, not least for rejecting Washington’s claim, in early June, that it was Iran that attacked oil tankers in the Gulf.

The socialist leader visited Ratcliffe, sat with him outside the embassy for 40 minutes and has promised to take up his case with the Iranian ambassador. Last week, Corbyn appeared at Prime Minister’s Questions, opposite Theresa May, in Parliament, along with a number of MPs, sporting flower-shaped #FreeNazanin badges, made by supporters outside the embassy.

“I was moved by his strength, optimism and determination in the face of injustice, and his campaign for the freedom of his wife Nazanin,” Corbyn tweeted.

That he has joined the protest is significant because it suggests that the Islamic Republic can no longer take what some critics perceive as the silence of the hard-left in the West for granted when it comes to human rights abuses.

The UK Labor leader faced much criticism after working for Press TV, the Islamic Republic’s English-language broadcaster, for a few years from 2009 – the year of the brutal crackdown on the Green movement. (Dozens were killed in street protests against what they believed was the fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.)

Press TV is an apt source to turn to gauge the success of Richard Ratcliffe’s protest. On Sunday it published an editorial questioning his motives in campaigning for his wife’s freedom.

The editorial, which makes no mention of Corbyn, accuses UK media of cultivating celebrity status for Nazanin and “misrepresenting her as an ‘innocent mother’ held ‘hostage’”.

Media interest in Nazanin’s case was, in fact, slow to arrive – back in 2017 she was a “dual national”. Today even tabloids refer to her as “jailed Brit mum”.

Press TV hints Richard has a hidden agenda – clutching at straws, somewhat, its editorial asks: “What the extent of Ratcliffe’s relationship with British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt?”

Bizarrely, it adds “it is a well-known fact” that Richard “personally benefits from his media engagements.”

The editorial says: “If Ratcliffe’s sole aim was to help his wife then he has simply failed in that effort as none of his stunts have brought Nazanin closer to freedom. In fact, his efforts have proven to be counterproductive and this gives rise to the disturbing question as to why he persists on the same course of action despite knowing that it exacerbates his wife’s situation.”

Being forced to paint Ratcliffe as a man who effectively wants to keep his wife in prison only suggests that his hunger strike has ruffled the very feathers he intended.

Press TV concedes Nazanin has “captured the imagination of Britons like no one before” (by which it surely means, “no Iranian political prisoner”). Just as Brunei backtracked over the death penalty for gay sex in May, the Islamic Republic, too, it seems, is fearful of snowballing public opinion against its policies. Ratcliffe’s tent may go but its shadow at 16 Princes Gate, London, remains.

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    Peyvand Khorsandi

    Peyvand Khorsandi is a freelance journalist and the former obituaries editor of The Independent. He has been a sub-editor at the Daily Mail, the Times, the Daily Mirror, Metro, the Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph. Born in Tehran, he lives in London and Rome.