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Published on 01/05/20

Ah, sweet freedom; the state of being free and not being subject to something undesirable. This is, at least for those of us who live in properly democratic countries, not a matter we have to consider much. Until now that is when our daily freedom is curtailed.

I can’t wait to be with family and friends again, in person, and not just on Zoom or Houseparty. I also miss the buzz of school life with hundreds of pupils, colleagues and parents on site each day. Not enjoying these freedoms is a minor physical inconvenience, and is an annoyance, but it does not affect my ability to speak out and interact with whoever I want about anything, on any platform.

There is no restriction on my thoughts and words, I continue to access almost everything I need and want (well, flour for baking and a thermometer would be good when available) and still have choice about most of my decisions. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has no such freedoms. She is a British-Iranian dual citizen who has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016. In early September 2016 she was sentenced to five years' imprisonment allegedly for ‘plotting to topple the Iranian government’. She was temporarily released on 17 March 2020. She has no access to a lawyer; her ‘trial’ did not allow representation. There was only a one sided and cursory examination of the facts. She has been in prison, now under house arrest, and separated from her very young child for four years. W. R. Inge (a former Dean of St Paul’s) said notably: ‘The enemies of freedom do not argue; they shout and they shoot.’

Nelson Mandela simply said that freedom was an ideal he was prepared to die for. His three-hour speech, now known by the name ‘I am prepared to die’, was given on 20 April 1964 from the dock of the defendant at the Rivonia Trial, where he and others were accused of sabotage and imprisoned for life. Later, in 1995 when he was free and standing before Parliament as President, he said ‘the time has come to accept in our hearts and minds that with freedom comes responsibility.’

He meant that he had twin obligations he owed to his family, and others including his country, people and community were a result of the freedom he now enjoyed.

In school, teachers work with pupils to help them to understand the freedoms they enjoy and the responsibilities which go with it. The freedom to think and act means helping everyone to have equality of access to join in and contribute, to be heard and respected. Understanding this in school will help pupils to understand the world and expect, and contribute, to the same freedoms and responsibilities when they leave school.  

Mark Twain put it so well: ‘We need to be responsible with our freedom: it is by the goodness of God that we have in our country three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and the prudence never to practice either.’

Mrs Jane Jenkins