(CNSNews.com) – The families of seven Americans and others incarcerated or missing in Iran urged the international community Monday to apply pressure on the regime to secure their release and to end what they said amounts to hostage-taking.
“We believe that the Iranian authorities have little incentive to end the cruel and horrific practice of hostage-taking as a result of inadequate pressure from the international community,” relatives of the seven wrote in a joint open letter.
“World leaders need to make the political cost for committing human rights violations so high that releasing our loved ones becomes advantageous to the Iranian authorities.”
The letter was sent to officials in the U.S., European and other countries and to senior U.N. and E.U. officials.
“We urge all our governments, especially those who enjoy diplomatic relations with the country of Iran, to acknowledge this hostage taking crisis immediately and to take concrete steps that would help resolve these cases,” the writers said.
The letter brought a swift statement of support from U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who condemned “Iran’s awful practice of detaining other countries’ citizens – including Americans.”
“Iran invented reasons to throw these innocent people in jail and keeps them there with no end in sight and no fair judicial process for them to pursue,” she said. “They should be released immediately and returned to their families. We won’t rest until they are.”
Among the signatories are family members of Bob Levinson, a retired FBI agent who went missing almost 12 years ago while visiting the Iranian resort island of Kish.
Two months after his disappearance in March 2007, a classified U.S. diplomatic cable (published later by Wikileaks) said the U.S. government had reason to believe Levinson had been detained by “Iranian security services.”
Levinson’s family received a “proof of life” video showing Levinson in captivity, and in April 2011 received photographs of him, with unkempt hair and beard, shackled, and wearing an orange jumpsuit.
That year then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. believed Levinson was “being held somewhere in southwest Asia,” and “respectfully request[ed] the Iranian government to undertake humanitarian efforts to safely return and reunite Bob with his family.”
On the 11th anniversary of Levinson’s disappearance, last March, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert again called on Iran to fulfil an earlier commitment to help bring Levinson home.
The FBI is offering a $5 million reward for information that could lead to his safe return.
‘Spying for a hostile government’
Similarities in the cases of the other six men held in Iran include arbitrary arrest, maltreatment in custody, forced confessions, and lengthy prison terms.
“Each story is not just a case of arbitrary detention, but deliberate and tactical moves by the Iranian authorities to secure bargaining chips,” the signatories wrote.
--Dual U.S.-Iranian citizens Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, were arrested in Iran in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Baquer, now 82-years-old, is a former UNICEF official while Siamak is a businessman and former Wilson Center scholar. Both were sentenced in October 2016 to ten years’ imprisonment for cooperating with the United States.
--Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-born U.S. permanent resident, is an Internet freedom advocate who was invited by Iran’s government to attend a women’s empowerment conference in 2015, but was kidnapped – allegedly by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – while on his way to the airport afterwards. State TV quoted unnamed sources as saying Zakka was suspected of links to the U.S. military and intelligence establishment.
--Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian scientist, was arrested by intelligence ministry officials in 2016 while in Iran at the invitation of universities. Supporters say he was harmed physically and psychologically, denied medical care, and pressurized to confess to charges of spying for a “hostile” government.
--Kamran Ghaderi, a dual Austrian-Iranian IT consultant, was detained at Tehran airport on arrival for a business trip in 2016. Also allegedly tortured in custody, he made a forced confession, was convicted of spying on behalf of a hostile nation, and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
--Saeed Malekpour, a web designer and Canadian permanent resident, traveled to Iran in 2008 to farewell his dying father, but was imprisoned, tortured, forced to confess to various offenses and sentenced to death – later changed to life imprisonment.
As of Monday, the incarcerated men have been held for periods ranging from 985 days (Djalali) to 3,711 days (Malekpour), while Levinson has been missing for almost 12 years.
Apart from Levinson and Malekpour, all were arrested after Iran in July 2015 concluded the nuclear deal with the Obama administration and five other governments.
On the day the agreement took effect, Iran released five other imprisoned Americans – and on the same day the Obama administration gave Iran $400 million in cash, in what it says was settlement of a long running legal dispute. (A further $1.3 billion in interest was paid subsequently.)
Critics viewed the handover as a “ransom” for what were effectively hostages.
U.S. lawmakers, led by then Kansas Rep. – now secretary of state – Mike Pompeo and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced legislation prohibiting “ransom” payments in exchange for Iran’s release of jailed Americans.