Iranian-American Prisoner in Tehran Starts Hunger Strike
The longest-held American prisoner in Iran began what he said would be a weeklong hunger strike on Monday to demand his immediate release, appealing directly to President Biden to negotiate freedom for him and other prisoners with dual citizenship.
Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman, made his appeal in a letter written from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison in the capital, Tehran, where he has been held for more than seven years.
“Day after day I ignore the intense pain that I always carry with me and do my best to fight this grave injustice,” Mr. Namazi wrote in the letter, which was shared by his lawyer, Jared Genser. “All I want, sir, is one minute of your day’s time for the next seven days devoted to thinking about the tribulations of the U.S. hostages in Iran.”
The Biden administration has emphasized that bringing home Americans unjustly held abroad is a top priority that it considers “every day.”
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that the White House had received Mr. Namazi’s letter and that the government was “continuing to work to bring him home, along with U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran, including Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.”
Mr. Tahbaz, 67, a businessman and conservationist, has been detained since 2018. Mr. Sharghi, also a businessman, was arrested in January. Both are being held by the Iranian government on charges of spying and threatening national security.
“Iran’s use of wrongful detention as political leverage is outrageous,” Ms. Jean-Pierre added.
But as relations between the two countries have grown more strained, it has become even harder for the United States to press Iran into any agreements.
In an update posted to Twitter on Tuesday, Mr. Genser said that his client decided to keep up his strike after prison officials called a meeting to try to persuade him to end it on Tuesday. Mr. Namazi was struggling to stay warm, but feels well and is in good spirits, the lawyer said in a later post.
“He is extremely heartened by the international support and response to his letter,” the lawyer wrote.
The strike coincided with the anniversary of the Obama administration’s deal with Iran in 2016 in which a group of American prisoners, excluding Mr. Namazi, were returned to the United States.
“I was left behind to rot in a high-security detention center,” Mr. Namazi wrote in an Opinion piece for The New York Times last June. “Often kept in a bare, closet-size room, I slept on the floor and received food from under the door — like a dog. I endured unutterable indignities during the 27 months I spent in that corner of hell before being moved to the general ward.”
Mr. Namazi was arrested in 2015 while on a business trip. His father, Baquer Namazi, an 86-year-old retired UNICEF official, was arrested the next year while trying to visit his son in prison.
In a murky trial, the two men were later convicted of collaborating with a hostile power — the United States — but the precise nature of the accusations has never been made clear.
The senior Mr. Namazi, who had suffered from serious arterial blockages, was released last October for urgent medical treatment. At the time, his son was granted a week’s leave from Evin Prison for a brief reunion with his father.
While in Evin, Mr. Namazi “has endured prolonged solitary confinement, denial of access to medical care, and physical and psychological torture,” according to a statement from his lawyer.
Mr. Namazi’s relatives also spoke out.
“My family is of course gravely concerned for Siamak’s health and distraught that he has resorted to such desperate measures,” his brother, Babak, said in a statement provided by Mr. Genser. He said they “understand his frustration with the seemingly unending horror he has faced.”
“I am begging President Biden to hear my brother’s pleas,” he said.
News of the hunger strike came as nationwide protests have engulfed Iran for months, set off by the death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of morality police, who had accused her of violating the country’s law mandating head scarves for adult women.
In his letter, Mr. Namazi pointed to a moment when “the whole world is witnessing how atrociously this regime can respond to those who dare demand their basic rights,” and urged Mr. Biden in his letter to harness his “moral compass and find the resolve to bring the U.S. hostages in Iran home.”