Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe breaks silence on Iran jail horrors and how she survived

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has spoken out about the horrors of her years spent in an Iranian jail and how she managed to stay sane – by knitting a pinny for her then baby daughter.

The mother-of-one, 45, who was held in prison from 2016 to 2022, explained how she kept her mind active – even in solitary confinement – to stave off boredom and despair.

In a candid interview with Harper’s Bazaar UK, author Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe told how sewing and knitting her own clothes and sharing creative outlets with her fellow prisoners became a powerful way of maintaining her connection to the outside world.

“Identical uniforms in prisons are used as a tool to enforce discipline and impose power,” she explained.

“The idea behind giving every inmate an oversize, cheap uniform in deliberately dull colours is to dehumanise them.

“The moment you put the uniform on, you are no longer yourself; you lose your name and identity. To them, you are just a number,” she said.

And she told how while inside she never forgot her family and knitted a pinafore for her then baby girl Gabriella, now nine.

“I knitted a lot. For months, I collected little bits of remaining wool from those who were about to be released,” she said.

“Using them, I crocheted small flower motifs in various colours and by joining them together, I made a pinafore for my baby girl.

“I called it the ‘freedom pinafore’ because the wool I used once belonged to those who were freed. I also knitted woollen hats and gave them away as presents to my friends in Evin [prison].”

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran on 3 April 2016 as part of a long running dispute between Britain and Iran.

In early September 2016, she was sentenced to five years in prison after being found guilty of plotting to topple the Iranian government.

After numerous legal wrangles and campaigning by her husband Richard she was eventually released in 2022.

And in the new interview, she told how finding creative outlets such as sewing helped her escape the daily realities of imprisonment.

“Life on the ward was similar to being on a university campus. We were a group of women cooking, reading, fighting and creating together, with one exception: we did not choose one another,” she said.

“Our experience was repetitive and regimented, and how to pass the time was the main challenge of the day. In solitary confinement, time was stagnant; there was literally nothing to do. The longer you spent in solitary, the more you appreciated life in the general ward, where sewing, knitting, woodwork and other forms of creativity affirmed a different world from prison.”

And she added: “The days when sentences were announced, inmates were taken to trial or relocated to other prisons, we were all filled with anger and disappointment. To cope, we used every occasion to celebrate by holding onto little things that connected us to our life beyond prison walls.”

“Giving away presents at the time of release was a fundamental practice. We crafted handmade accessories to be given as presents or at times, to adorn our outfits when choices were limited. We recycled every piece of scrap fabric, leather, wool, button, wood and bead to make earrings, bracelets, necklaces, hair pins or even belts.

“We also helped each other by teaching these skills, and everyone was keen to pass them on to the newcomers.”

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