An Iranian American being held in Tehran began a seven-day hunger strike on Jan. 16 to mark the seven years he has been detained in the Islamic country.
Since his arrest in October 2015, Siamak Namazi has been held incommunicado by the Iranian regime. On Jan. 16, 2016, the Obama administration conducted a prisoner swap, but Namazi was left out of the exchange, while U.S. officials received assurances from Tehran that he would be released within weeks. The prisoner swap coincided with the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015.
However, Namazi wasn’t released, and is currently being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. He has become the “longest-held Iranian-American hostage in history,” Namazi, 51, wrote in a Jan. 16 letter to President Joe Biden, asking the president to do more for U.S. detainees in Iran.
Evin prison, the primary site for Tehran’s political prisoners, has a reputation for human rights abuses.
Namazi criticized U.S. officials for promising that rescuing hostages in Iran is their “highest priority.” Such well-intentioned statements are repeated year after year but with no “tangible results,” he said.
In the past, Namazi had “implored” Biden to reach out for his “moral compass” and find the resolve to bring U.S. hostages in Iran home. “To no avail. Not only do we remain Iran’s prisoners but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting,” he wrote.
Namazi asked Biden to spend one minute per day for the next seven days thinking about the tribulations facing American hostages in Iran.
“Just a single minute of your time for each year of my life that I lost in Evin prison after the USG [U.S. government] could have saved me but didn’t … I will deny myself food for the same seven days, in the hope that by doing so you won’t deny me this small request.”
Imprisoning Father, Suffering in Jail
Namazi’s father, Baquer Namazi, has also suffered at the hands of the Iranian regime. In 2016, Baquer was lured to Tehran under the pretense that he would see his son.
However, he ended up being arrested. Both Namazi and his father were sentenced to 10 years in prison for “collaboration with a hostile foreign government,” that is, the United States. Baquer was released in 2022 to seek life-saving medical treatment.
In his letter, Namazi writes that he knows of “no words that do justice to the ineffable pain” he has endured as a prisoner in Iran. He was “stripped” of his humanity, treated like an “extraordinarily priced item,” and faces “excruciating terror” because of not knowing when his suffering will end.
“My captors enjoy taunting me about that fact by saying things like: ‘How can your beloved America be so heartless? Not one but two U.S. presidents freed others but left you behind!’ Yet my frank reply deprives them of any satisfaction,” he wrote.
“I tell them while I remain highly indignant about the invidious distinction the U.S. government can make among its citizens at risk, I never forget that it was not [former presidents] Obama or Trump who imprisoned me on made-up charges. That it is clear whose vile hostage diplomacy has blighted the lives of so many innocent men and women and their families.”
Bringing Back Namazi
Talking about his brother’s hunger strike, Babak Namazi said that he and his family are concerned about his brother’s health. The family has called on the United States and Iran to reach a deal to secure the release of all American prisoners.
“I am begging President Biden to hear my brother’s pleas and finally demonstrate the courage to do whatever necessary to bring Siamak and the other American hostages in Iran—Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz—home,” Babak Namazi said, according to a statement by Siamak Namazi’s lawyer, Jared Genser.
While commenting about Namazi’s letter, a White House National Security Council spokesperson said that Washington is committed to securing his freedom.
“We are working tirelessly to bring him home, along with all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran,” the spokesperson said, according to Reuters. “Iran’s wrongful detention of U.S. citizens for use as political leverage is outrageous.”