When I woke up last Friday and glanced at my phone, I was immediately filled with dread.
Scrolling through Twitter, report after report confirmed that U.S. forces had assassinated Qassem Soleimani, the all-powerful 62-year-old head of the Quds Force, the clandestine foreign wing of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Many horrified social media users expressed disbelief at such a seismic event. How could President Trump do this? Was he setting us on the path to World War III?
Richard Ratcliffe was left preoccupied with the question of whether the ordered assassination of Qassem Soleimani by President Trump would seal the fate of his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
But I was preoccupied by a far more personal question: did this act seal the fate of my wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly four years on trumped-up charges of espionage? Would I see her again?
It couldn’t have come at a more gut-wrenching time.
I had just shared my first Christmas with Gabriella, our five-year-old daughter, since her mother was imprisoned back in April 2016.
After my wife was arrested, Gabriella had her passport confiscated and lived in Tehran with Nazanin’s family. It meant she could visit her mother once a month.
Without the two most important people in my life, I hadn’t much felt like celebrating Christmas throughout those years apart.
But last October, we finally got clearance for Gabriella to move back to Britain to start school. And although Nazanin wasn’t with us, I was determined to make this Christmas special for Gabriella.
It was a magical, if bittersweet affair. Having been brought up largely in Iran, she doesn’t speak much English or know much about Christmas. But she was delighted with the presents in her stocking and threw herself into the carol singing.
While she has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly four years on trumped-up charges of espionage, their daughter Gabriella (pictured) had her passport confiscated. She lived in Tehran with Nazanin’s family
Indeed, it is a huge testament to Nazanin, and her family in Iran, that in spite of everything Gabriella is such a bright and cheerful little girl.
That didn’t make it any easier for Nazanin, who was stuck in prison and on hunger strike in solidarity with other prisoners. When I spoke to her on the phone on Christmas Day she sounded flat.
But the next time we spoke, the day after Soleimani’s assassination, her mood was much bleaker. She was horrified by the implications.
She, along with other prisoners from Western countries, are being held by the Revolutionary Guard on fabricated charges, pawns in Iran’s conflict with the West.
At first she could not believe what had happened. She had seen the reports on Iranian TV in the prison, but she and her fellow inmates were unsure whether the news had been invented by the state-controlled media.
When I confirmed it was true, her despair was palpable, even though she was behind bars 4,000 miles away.
My wife now believes there is no chance she will be released in the near future.
Worse still, she is terrified that an angry Revolutionary Guard will make her serve a second sentence.
Ratcliffe finally got clearance for Gabriella to move back to Britain to start school, in October
And, like many Iranians, she is beside herself with worry about what the future holds for the country. Iranians are tired of war and do not want to be caught in the middle of a devastating conflict.
As someone who spends every waking moment campaigning for Nazanin’s release, I share these fears.
At the very least, it is highly likely Soleimani’s death will have made it harder for Gabriella and me