An American imprisoned in Iran for seven years launched a hunger strike Monday to protest his “soul crushing” plight and that of other Americans held in Iran, appealing to President Joe Biden to take action to secure their release.
In a letter to Biden from his cell in Evin prison in Tehran, Siamak Namazi said he is starting a seven-day hunger strike to mark seven years since he was left out of a January 2016 prisoner swap between the U.S. and Iran.
“When the Obama administration unconscionably left me in peril and freed the other American citizens Iran held hostage on January 16, 2016, the U.S. government promised my family to have me safely home within weeks,” Namazi wrote. “Yet seven years and two presidents later, I remain caged in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.”
Namazi accused former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump of having failed him and criticized Biden for not meeting face-to-face with the families of Americans imprisoned in Iran.
“In the past I implored you to reach for your moral compass and find the resolve to bring the U.S. hostages in Iran home. To no avail,” Namazi wrote. “Not only do we remain Iran’s prisoners, but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting.”
Namazi said he was asking Biden to spend one a minute a day for the next week contemplating the fate of Americans detained in Iran, while in return he would refuse to eat.
“All I want sir, is one minute of your days’ time for the next seven days devoted to thinking about the tribulations of the U.S. hostages in Iran. Just a single minute of your time for each year of my life that I lost in Evin prison after the U.S. government could have saved me but didn’t. That is all,” he wrote.
“Alas, given I am in this cage all I have to offer you in return is my additional suffering. Therefore, I will deny myself food for the same seven days, in the hope that by doing so you won’t deny me this small request.”
Namazi has been held prisoner in Iran longer than any other American in history. Iranian authorities sentenced him to 10 years on charges of “collaboration with a hostile foreign government.” The United Nations, human rights organizations and the U.S. government say that the charges are baseless and that his detention is an arbitrary violation of international law.
His elderly father, Baquer Namazi, was imprisoned in 2016 after having traveled to Iran to try to help his son. He was later released on medical furlough and then allowed to leave the country in October. Two other U.S. citizens are imprisoned in Iran, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Sharghi, as well as an unknown number of permanent U.S. legal residents, including Shahab Dalili.
In a statement Monday, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, “We remain committed to securing the freedom of Siamak Namazi and we are working tirelessly to bring him home, along with all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran, including Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.”
“Iran’s wrongful detention of U.S. citizens for use as political leverage is outrageous. Our priority is bringing all our wrongfully detained citizens home safely and as soon as possible and resolving the cases of missing and abducted U.S. citizens.”
Despite his scathing criticism of successive U.S. presidents, Namazi said the ultimate blame for his incarceration rested with what he called a ruthless regime in Iran. He said he has told his “captors” that he never forgets “that it was not Obama or Trump who imprisoned me on made up charges” and “that it is clear whose vile hostage diplomacy has blighted the lives of so many innocent men and women and their families.”
Iran has denied that it has imprisoned Americans and other foreigners on arbitrary charges and says the cases were handled in accordance with its laws.
U.S. officials say that securing the freedom of Americans detained in Iran is a top priority and that Biden is deeply committed to ensuring all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained abroad can return home safely.
In his letter, Namazi said he had no words to convey “the ineffable pain I’ve endured since Iran took me hostage in October 2015.”
“Nothing I say could possibly convey the agony of having to harden myself to this soul crushing callousness and lawlessness. How does one describe what it feels like to be stripped of your humanity and treated as some sort of extortionately priced item instead?” he wrote.
“How do I explain the devastation my family and I are left with after so many half-hearted prisoner deals crumbled last minute, turning freedom into a chimera?"
Babak Namazi, Namazi’s brother, said in a statement that his family “is of course gravely concerned for Siamak’s health and distraught that he has resorted to such desperate measures.”
“However, we also understand his frustration with the seemingly unending horror he has faced and support his call on both Iran and the U.S. to finally reach a deal to secure the release of all the American hostages.”