May 23, 2016—(CNN) By Nazanin Boniadi – CNN Editor’s Note: Nazanin Boniadi is an actress, activist and a member of the board of directors at the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. She co-starred on the award winning Showtime series “Homeland”, and will appear lead in the upcoming MGM and Paramount remake of “Ben-Hur”. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
May 23, 2016—(CNN) Once, I hoped to return to Iran. Like Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the woman who now sits in an Iranian jail, I longed to visit family, friends, the land of my birth. Her arrest last month, the latest in a string of arrests of dual nationals lured back to Iran, has thrown cold water on my hopes, for now. The oppressors, for the moment, have won.
But it’s a hollow victory, and I do not believe a permanent one, as it only serves to starve Iran of the vitality and engagement with the world its citizens want and need.
When I read about Nazanin’s arrest in Iran, I was struck by the deep connection I felt to this woman — and to the enormity of what sets us apart.
Both of us are Iranian-born young women, sharing the same given name, who made Great Britain our home and philanthropy our life’s work. Yet she sits in a detention center, while I enjoy the comforts of home. She has been virtually incommunicado and in isolation, deprived even of her 22-month-old daughter, while I am surrounded by family and friends.
Why? Because she returned to the Islamic Republic of Iran, to visit her parents, and to allow them to see their granddaughter, while I live in an open society, where such philanthropic work is celebrated, not criminalized.
How many more of Iran’s best and brightest, who return home to see their loved ones, or even to offer their talents to assist with the country’s growth, will be snatched off the streets and imprisoned, because the Islamic Republic’s security and intelligence apparatus wants to keep dual nationals — and their notions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press — out of Iran?
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was not engaged in subversive work; she was an apolitical project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the Reuters news agency. Jason Rezaian, held for 544 days in Iran, was not a spy, but rather a Washington Post journalist whose work aimed to increase cultural understanding between Iran and the world.
Iranian-American Siamak Namazi, imprisoned since October 2015, is not a Western agent, but a businessman who came to promote Iran’s economic growth and revitalization. And 76-year-old British-Iranian Kamal Foroughi, who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2011, was not involved in espionage, but rather oil industry consulting.
There is also grave concern about the inhumane conditions faced by these prisoners. Amir Hekmati, a U.S. Marine veteran who was held for over four years, recently filed a lawsuit against the government of Iran, detailing his torture and abuse.
There are many more I could add to this list, all good people, returning to Iran only to be put behind bars, at the whim of fearful officials who jealously guard their repressive world view against perceived “infiltrators.”
When President Hassan Rouhani was elected in Iran in 2013, he welcomed back the far-flung children of Iran. But one by one they have been arrested and imprisoned upon their return, a fate that has made me increasingly reluctant to risk going back to a homeland I’ve not seen since 1992.
This is exactly what the hard-liners in Iran want. They want to keep us out. Their aim is to keep imprisoning us until no one dares return, and the Islamic Republic of Iran itself effectively becomes a prison, isolated from the rest of the world. I do not think they will succeed.
I cannot imagine Nazanin’s pain right now. I cannot image the pain of a mother being separated from her young child — a child who can’t even be comforted by her father because the authorities have confiscated the baby’s passport (she has British citizenship only), making her an effective prisoner of Iran as well.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been imprisoned for over six weeks now, without charge and without access to a lawyer. She was only recently moved out of solitary confinement, into a communal cell, and was able to see her daughter for the first time only after more than five weeks — and only after her husband started a petition calling for her release that was quickly signed by over 600,000 people.
Unless she is promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offense based on true public evidence, she should be released immediately. So, too, the other dual nationals held in Iran on baseless ground, as well as all the other prisoners unjustly incarcerated in politicized prosecutions.
As the Islamic Republic seeks to normalize its relations with the world, let the global community state clearly that these detentions are not lawful or acceptable. The international community must speak out loudly and with one voice against this injustice. If Iran wants to stand among the community of nations as something other than a pariah, these seizures must stop.
Nazanin Boniadi is an actress, activist and a member of the board of directors at the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. She co-starred on the award winning Showtime series “Homeland.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.