U.S. Congress Holds Hearing on Imprisoned U.S. Citizens in Iran

On Tuesday July 25, 2017 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa met for a hearing entitled “Held for Ransom: The Families of Iran’s Hostages Speak Out.” The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the cases of four U.S. citizens currently being held hostage by the Iranian government, including that of father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi.

Babak Namazi was one of three witnesses who gave testimony at the hearing, speaking on behalf of his brother and father who are currently serving 10 year sentences for “collusion with an enemy state” at the infamous Evin prison. Babak spoke of his concerns for his father, who since his arrest in February 2016 has lost 30 pounds and twice been hospitalized. At the age of 81 and having recently had heart surgery, the Namazi family is fearful that Baquer is not getting the treatment he needs and their concerns have only been heightened by the lack of information they are receiving from the Iranian authorities. Siamak, who has been held at Evin since October 2015, is similarly in poor health. He is regularly kept in solitary confinement and, being denied a proper bed, is forced to sleep on a concrete floor. As Baquer was a prominent officer for UNICEF for over twenty years, the organization along with the UN have been playing an active role in aiding his case and urging Iranian authorities that he and his son be released. However, in spite of these efforts, both father and son remain in detention with their health rapidly deteriorating.

Along with Babak, Omar Zakka and Doug Levinson also testified at the hearing. Omar’s father, Nizar Zakka, was kidnapped and unjustly imprisoned in September 2015 after having been invited to Iran to attend a conference. Doug’s father, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, went missing from Kish Island in March 2007 and is the longest-held American hostage in history. Despite the continued efforts and appeals of their relatives, Mr. Zakka and Mr. Levinson, like the Namazis, have yet to be released. The Iranian government’s disregard for international conventions and blatant perversion of the course of justice in its holding of innocent hostages begs the question of what can be done both by the U.S. government and the international community to release these individuals.

During the hearing, witnesses and Members of Congress made several suggestions on how the U.S. government and international community may apply greater pressure on Iran to release its hostages, including the use of sanctions.

Participants also discussed the recently passed House Resolution 317, which calls for the unconditional release of American hostages in Iran, including the Namazis, Mr. Levinson and Mr. Zakka. The passage of the bill makes the release of these individuals a top priority for the U.S. government.

The White House also issued a statement last Friday underlining the Trump administration’s intentions to intensify efforts to bring home Americans who have been “unjustly detained.” It furthermore implied that the new administration would be taking a tougher stance on Iran and was “prepared to impose new and serious” consequences on the country.

The increased attention to the Namazi case by Congress and the White House is encouraging. However, as Babak told Members of Congress, his father’s health is declining, and his brother has spent most of the past two years in solitary confinement. Babak fears time is running out. The U.S. government and the international community must do all it can to ensure these men are returned homely safely.

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