On April 25, 2017, Jared Genser, the founder of Freedom Now, and Babak Namazi, the brother of Siamak Namazi and son of Baquer Namazi, held a press conference to discuss the arbitrary detention of Siamak and Baquer. A transcript of remarks is below.
Remarks of Jared Genser
Good morning. My name is Jared Genser and I am Founder of Freedom Now and serve as international counsel to Siamak and Baquer Namazi, two American hostages imprisoned by the Government of Iran. Each were convicted and sentenced in October 2016 to 10 years in prison on charges of “collusion with an enemy state,” in reference to the United States. They are being held by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. I am joined here by Babak Namazi, who is Siamak’s brother and Baquer’s son.
We urge the Government of Iran to release Siamak and Baquer Namazi immediately and unconditionally on humanitarian grounds. And we call on President Donald Trump, who in October 2016 commenting on the Namazis’ convictions and Iran having taken two more hostages: “This doesn’t happen if I’m President!,” to be good to his word and do whatever is necessary to secure their release.
Babak and I come to Vienna at a dramatic moment of escalating tensions between the United States and Iran because it is here later today the Trump Administration will have its first face-to-face meetings with Iranian government officials on the Iranian nuclear deal. We understand the United States will also be raising the ongoing imprisonment and mistreatment of the Namazis during discussions with Iranian officials.
In our press conference this morning, I will provide some context for the Namazi cases. Babak Namazi will then speak about his family’s situation. And I will discuss our filing made earlier today to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention against the Government of Iran before opening up the floor to questions.
By way of some background, although US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week certified to the US Congress that Iran is to date complying with terms of the Iranian nuclear deal, he announced a cross-government review of Iran policy, grounded in a scathing indictment of how Iran’s policies are adverse to the interests of the United States.
Secretary Tillerson described Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.” He stated that Iranian naval vessels harass U.S. naval vessels operating in the Persian Gulf, that Iran has conducted cyber-attacks against the United States, that its development and proliferation of missile technology is in defiance of relevant Security Council resolutions, and that it continues to have one of the world’s worst human-rights records. And he concluded by saying that “an unchecked Iran has the potential to travel the same path as North Korea, and take the world along with it.”
Buried among the broad array of issues of concern to the Trump Administration was a reference to Iran unjustly imprisoning U.S. citizens. And yet, if unresolved quickly, the Namazis cases could have an outsized impact on the trajectory of U.S.-Iran relations because both are in rapidly declining health. Secretary Tillerson’s remarks followed the Trump Administration sanctioning both the Tehran Prisons Organization and its head on April 13th. In commenting on these sanctions, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted “The sanctions against human rights abusers in Iran’s prisons come at a time when Iran continues to unjustly detain in its prison various foreigners, including U.S. citizens Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi.” He added “We join recent calls by international organizations and U.N. human rights experts for the immediate release of all U.S. citizens unjustly detained or missing in Iran so that they can return to their families.”
We are here today so that Babak Namazi can provide a voice for his father and brother and speak to who they really are and what they and their family have been suffering through in what will shortly be the last two years.
Before I turn the floor over to Babak, I want to conclude on a personal note. As an international human rights lawyer, I have been privileged to have represented and helped secure the release of dozens of people who have been arbitrarily detained around the world, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. In all of these cases, the prisoners and the families suffer immensely. But what Babak and his family are suffering through with two loved ones in prison is beyond anyone’s capacity to imagine.
Babak, the courage, grace, and dignity with which you and your family are handling the most impossible of circumstances is an inspiration to me and my team. And we will stand in solidarity with you and advocate relentlessly on Siamak and Baquer’s behalf until they can come home.
Remarks of Babak Namazi
I am here in Vienna today, as a desperate son and brother to bring to life for the international community and to put human faces onto the enormous suffering of my dearest father Baquer Namazi and my brother Siamak Namazi. I am here today because I fear that unless something is done quickly I may not see them again, ever. I am here as it is my duty – as the only able son and brother – to do all I can for those dearest in life to me.
Baquer and Siamak Namazi are Iranian-Americans who have each been unfairly arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “collaborating with a hostile government,” the United States of America. They are being unjustly detained in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It would have been an unimaginable nightmare to merely have two members of my family be hostages of the Government of Iran. But my family’s suffering has been compounded by the intense, unrelenting, cruel, and inhumane treatment imposed on both of them such that today, I do not know if they will still be alive in the coming months.
I beg the Government of Iran to release Siamak and my father on humanitarian grounds.
It’s enough, please let them go. They are completely innocent of the charges on which they
have been convicted. They are patriots who love both their countries and who have only ever wanted to improve relations between the people of the United States and of Iran and help the Iranian people.
It causes my family unrelenting and enormous pain to see how their bodies, minds, and
spirits have been crushed in Evin Prison. But despite all of the cruelty that we have witnessed, it is not too late. I urge the Iranian government to step back before either my father or brother – or both of them – die in their custody. All the signs suggest, as I will describe in much greater detail, that this is an outcome whose likelihood is increasing by the day.
Not only would my family be devastated and unconsolable, but this result would, I fear, escalate an already fragile situation between the United States and Iran thereby also driving our peoples further apart in the process. Ironically, both my father and brother have spent their lives trying to foster mutual cooperation and understanding between our peoples.
I am here in Vienna today because it the first day of bilateral discussions between the Trump Administration and the Government of Iran regarding implementation of the Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – also known as the nuclear deal. But that is not the only item that will be on the agenda. I have been told by Trump Administration that the United States will directly raise the ongoing unjust imprisonment of my father and brother to the Iranian delegation.
I was very encouraged to hear this, just as I was encouraged in October 2016 to hear then candidate-for President Donald Trump, in response to Siamak and my father’s wrongful
convictions, say “This doesn’t happen if I am president!” I am counting on the President to take personal responsibility for the lives of my father and brother and to act urgently in the face of their rapidly declining health and welfare.
As I noted earlier, Siamak and my father are being detained in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, in a wing under the exclusive control of Revolutionary Guards. This prison is infamous for its systematic use of torture and degrading treatment, and the special wing where my father and brother are being held is known to operate outside the law and with no semblance of transparency or legality. Even the judiciary system has no control over their actions. We have been told by the judiciary that they have issued instructions repeatedly to move Siamak to a better cell and to allow my father and Siamak to regularly visit each other. These instructions are however regularly disregarded with impunity.
My brother, Siamak, has experienced the worst of Evin Prison in the 18 months that he has been detained there and for reasons beyond comprehension singled out for even harsher treatment. He has been continually subjected to lengthy interrogations, which have persisted even after his conviction. He is held in a dark, humid cell that lacks even a bed to sleep on, forcing him to sleep on the concrete floor. And most of his time in that cell has been spent in solitary confinement.
The Revolutionary Guards have to my horror tortured, beaten, and tased him, in addition
to subjecting him to psychological torture. It seems that they are doing everything they can to push Siamak over the edge, and in recent months, it is clear they are succeeding.
The suffering intentionally inflicted on Siamak, combined with his extended isolation, have caused his mental and physical wellbeing to deteriorate rapidly. He went on a hunger strike at one point and has lost more than 12 kilograms during his detention. He is severely depressed –and even more so since his conviction. The few conversations I have been able to have with Siamak scare me to death and keep me up at night. He feels that he has nothing left to live for and the taking of matters in his own hands which he repeated again just a few days ago. Every second of every day, I fear the worst may happen.
Meanwhile our father, Baquer Namazi, is 80-years-old and has serious heart conditions and has also been put in solitary confinement for part of his detention. Prior to his detention, he had undergone a triple bypass surgery and was having regular follow-up appointments with a heart specialist regarding arrythmia. He was taking a half dozen medications a day for his various ailments and was told that he may need a pacemaker.
Now, he is completely cut off from his doctor and we have no idea what medications they are giving him in the prison. It is incredibly rare for the Revolutionary Guards to allow a detainee outside of the prison for medical treatment, and so it is especially telling and heart wrenching for me that they have rushed my father to an external hospital on two separate occasions, each for some five days.
My family and I were not informed at the time, and only heard this through my father after the fact. The doctors have refused to provide their diagnosis to him, instead only briefing the Revolutionary Guard handlers after he has been removed from the room.
None of us have ever seen his medical records from such external hospital visits. But we do
know from his own rapidly expanding list of self-observed symptoms including severe weight loss, dizziness, exhaustion, confusion, lightheadedness and shortness of breath, that time is not on his side.
His body, mind, and spirit are visibly wasting away and the change has become even more
pronounced since his unjust conviction. Prior to that, he could still put on a good face in front of his family – even finding the strength to laugh at the absurdity of it all. But now, his spirits have been crushed by the harsh reality that, although he is innocent, he may well die in prison – and soon. It broke my heart when my father recently asked me and especially my children to pray for him.
With the brave face he always put on for my brother and me as he traveled the world for
UNICEF, he always appeared to be able to bend the world to his will in small but important ways for the betterment of humanity. While my father always believed that prayer was compelling and important in its own right, for him to ask me and his grandchildren to pray for him was his way of telling me that he has accepted his fate and that it is out of his hands. I cannot describe how such physical and mental deterioration of my hero crushes me.
Let me now step back for a moment and explain the events that brought us to this point.
My brother, Siamak, was arrested by the Revolutionary Guards on October 13, 2015 following three months of intense interrogations. He had been visiting Iran for a weekend trip at the time for a family funeral in July 2015 and was prevented from leaving by the IRGC. He was immediately taken to Evin Prison and subjected to relentless interrogations regarding his ties to Western institutions and efforts in easing the reach of life saving medicine to Iran.
We could not understand what the Revolutionary Guards wanted to do with Siamak, a business consultant and scholar who had never sought to antagonize the government. We hoped that his arrest would prove to be some kind of mistake and he would soon be released. In fact, within days of Siamak’s arrest, the magistrate who issued Siamak’s arrest warrant told me personally that Siamak will be released in a matter of weeks.
With this private assurance, my family initially decided to keep quiet and not speak with anyone about this situation. But when it became clear that this commitment was not going to be honored, a member of our family reached out to the U.S. State Department on November 15, 2015 and conveyed unequivocally that our family wanted the State Department’s help in securing Siamak’s release from prison.
In January 2016, both Iranian and international news outlets started reporting that Iran would be releasing four American hostages as a condition of the impending nuclear deal. My family was overcome with joy over this news: there were only four known American hostages in Iran at that time, and Siamak was one of them. He was going to be released and in fact Siamak’s inclusion in the release list was initially reported by both Iranian and Western media.
But on January 16, 2016, Iran released five American hostages – and Siamak was not one of them. It turned out that there had been two other unknown hostages, bringing the total count of American hostages to six, and Siamak had been to our shock and horror left behind.
My family and I were devastated, and we struggled to comprehend how President Obama could leave Siamak behind, let alone leave us to learn about this in the media, rather than reaching out to us in advance. We were about to put out a press release expressing our dismay and shock, but it was “highly recommended” by the State Department to keep quiet.
I was informed that Secretary of State John Kerry had secured a promise from Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif that Siamak would be released within weeks and that our issuing a statement could interfere with achieving that outcome. So, wanting the best for Siamak and not wanting to create any obstacles we acceded to the State Department’s request.
Foreign Minister Zarif broke his promise – and, looking back, I am mystified as to how Secretary Kerry could have trusted him to do so. Not only had the United States unfrozen and reportedly returned considerable sums of Iranian assets but the entry into force of the nuclear deal was done. So where was there any incentive for the Government of Iran to release Siamak? I have never been given a satisfactory answer to that question.
Even worse, not only was the promise broken, but weeks later, horrifically, the Revolutionary Guards doubled down by arresting and detaining my dear father Baquer. My father is an 80-year-old retired UNICEF officer who has dedicated his life to helping the world’s most vulnerable children. After a lifetime of service in some of the most dangerous areas of the world, he deserves to be living out his retirement in peace. Instead, he is suffering and dying in an unimaginable hell.
On October 17, 2016, in an extraordinary perversion of justice, my father and brother were
unjustly convicted of “collaboration with a hostile government” – referring in this case to the United States. They were each sentenced to 10 years in prison. For my father, this amounts to a death sentence.
As the end of President Obama’s term approached, there were more frequent direct discussions with U.S. and Iranian officials on a range of topics, including the American citizen hostage cases. But on January 20, 2017, the clock ran out. While President Obama and Secretary Kerry were able to leave office, return to their own families, and enjoy their retirement from public life, their legacy is having left my brother and father behind in Evin Prison.
I stand here today, however, to remind the Government of Iran that it is not too late to
release Siamak and my father on humanitarian grounds. It is urgent that this happens before we are faced with a tragedy that would be devastating not only to my family, but also to U.S.-Iranian relations.
I also want to convey to President Trump that I am counting on him to be good on his word that the Government of Iran will not be able to detain American hostages on his watch. I ask that coming from the discussions today that President Trump decides to act, and that he acts urgently. While I am grateful for the public expressions of serious concern and that the cases are being raised today privately, it is not enough to demand my father and brother’s release. I urge the Trump Administration to open an appropriate channel with the relevant parties in the Government of Iran to enable direct and ongoing discussions to secure the release of my father and brother. Time is running out fast.
To those of you gathered here today, thank you for bearing witness to my family’s suffering. My final request is to you: please keep this story alive, because my father and brother’s lives depend on it. Thank you.
Concluding Remarks by Jared Genser
Babak, thank you for your incredibly moving words.
Before I open the floor to questions, let me speak briefly about the legal filing that we made earlier today in Geneva. As counsel to the Namazis, my team and I lodged a formal complaint against the Government of Iran before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The Working Group is a specialized quasi-judicial body that was created by the former UN Commission on Human Rights and whose mandate was extended and continues under the UN Human Rights Council. It consists of five independent experts appointed by the Council. Although these experts serve in their individual capacities and not representing their respective governments, members of the Working Group currently come from Australia, Benin, Latvia, Mexico, and South Korea.
According to its Methods of Work, upon receiving a complaint, the Working Group provides a government up to sixty days to response to the submission. The petitioner is then given the opportunity to reply to the response from the Government. And ultimately the case is typically considered during the next tri-annual session of the WGAD and a written legal opinion is adopted and published determining whether or not the petitioner is being held arbitrarily and in violation of a detaining country’s obligations under international law. While there is no enforcement mechanism for opinions of the Working Group, in my experience combining such opinions with political and public relations advocacy can be a highly effective tool to pressure governments to resolve outstanding cases of arbitrary detention.
In our submission, we detail how the Namazis are detained both in violation of their fundamental rights and in violation of their basic rights to due process of law protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty to which the Government of Iran is a state party.
For example, we explain how Siamak Namazi is being held in violation of his right to freedom of association as the entire case against him appears to be his association with Western organizations, including the World Economic Forum, National Endowment for Democracy, and Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
We also detail a very wide array of due process abuses that demonstrate unequivocally the arbitrary nature of their arrest, trial, conviction, sentencing, and imprisonment. These
• The Iranian Government Arrested the Namazis Without a Proper Warrant
• The Iranian Government Held the Namazis Without Charge
• The Iranian Government Has Detained the Namazis Without Access to Family
• The Iranian Government Failed to Provide the Namazis an Independent and Impartial Tribunal
• The Iranian Government Failed to Provide the Namazis a Public Hearing
• The Iranian Government Interfered with the Namazis’ Right to Prepare a Defense, Call and Examine Witnesses, and Withheld All Evidence from the Defense
• There Was No Valid Evidence to Find the Namazis Guilty
• The Iranian Government Interfered with the Namazis’ Right to the Presumption of Innocence
• The Iranian Government Substantially Limited the Namazis’ Right to Access to Counsel
• The Iranian Government Substantially Limited the Namazis’ Right to an Adequate Appellate Review According to Law
• The Iranian Government’s Ongoing Denial of Medically Appropriate Detention Conditions for the Namazis Constitutes Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment as well as Torture
All of this said, however, the charges against the Namazis were clearly pre-textual. In fact, they are imprisoned as hostages to be used Iran as leverage in negotiations with the United States.
I want to conclude by reaffirming the call that both Babak and I have made in our discussion today.
We urge the Government of Iran to release Siamak and Baquer Namazi immediately and unconditionally on humanitarian grounds. And we call on President Donald Trump to do whatever is necessary to secure their release following today’s discussions in Vienna.
Let me now open up the floor to questions. If you can first identify yourself by name and the news organization that you are from, that would be helpful.