Americans Held Prisoner in Iran Saw Promise of Better Relations

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When Siamak Namazi traveled to Tehran in the summer of 2015, he had hopes of exploring investment opportunities in Iran. However, instead of finding business prospects, Namazi was arrested and charged with collaborating with a hostile government, referring to the United States. This marked the beginning of a seven and a half year-long ordeal for the 51-year-old Iranian American businessman. In January, he even went on a hunger strike to draw attention to his situation. But recently, Namazi, along with four other dual national Iranian Americans, became part of a prisoner swap deal between Iran and the U.S., bringing hope of their release.

As part of the deal, the U.S. agreed to release five Iranians who were jailed for violating sanctions against Iran and to release around $6 billion of Iran’s frozen assets that were in South Korea. The money will be transferred to a bank account in Qatar and can only be used by Iran for humanitarian purposes. However, the ordeal is not yet over for the American prisoners. Iran’s foreign ministry has stated that they will only be allowed to leave the country once the money lands in the Qatari bank account. Currently, they have been released from prison and are under house arrest at a Tehran hotel.

The other American prisoners include Emad Sharghi, a businessman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges, and Morad Tahbaz, a British-born businessman and wildlife conservationist who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years on charges of contacts with the U.S. government. The U.S. government has not named the other two prisoners, respecting their families’ wishes for anonymity.

Siamak Namazi comes from a well-known family in Iran, and he had studied Iran’s economy, markets, and the impact of sanctions on the country’s economy. His father, Baquer Namazi, was also arrested in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on the same charges as his son. Baquer Namazi was allowed to leave Iran in 2022 due to failing health and joined his family in Dubai.

Morad Tahbaz, a wealthy businessman, co-founded the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection of endangered animals in Iran. He was arrested on spying charges in 2018 and suffered from prostate cancer and multiple bouts of Covid-19 during his detention.

Emad Sharghi relocated to Tehran with his wife in 2017 after their daughters went off to college in the U.S. He explored business opportunities with Iranian start-ups but was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

While the American prisoners and their families are expected to be released by September, recovering from the trauma may take longer. The families have expressed their indescribable pain and the void caused by their loved ones’ absence. There is hope that the prisoner swap deal will provide a path to freedom for these individuals who have endured years of imprisonment in Iran.

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