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Daughters of Americans imprisoned in Iran appeal to Biden for action

The president's special envoy for hostage affairs said, "Whether someone receives a meeting with the president or not ... we’re always still working these cases.”
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The daughters of two Iranian Americans imprisoned in Iran for more than four years appealed for a face-to-face meeting with President Joe Biden and called on him to take the tough decisions necessary to bring their fathers home. 

The children of Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi, two of the three American men detained in Iran on espionage charges that rights groups say have no basis, praised Biden for agreeing to the deal that secured the recent release of U.S. basketball star Britney Griner from Russia. But they said their fathers’ cases should receive similar attention and priority.

Hannah Shargi, speaking to NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, said her family has been requesting a meeting with Biden and believes it would help him understand their plight.

Emad Shargi.
Emad Shargi.United for Iran

“We have been asking for a meeting with him for quite some time, because at the end of the day, yes, he is the one that will make that decision. And I just want to sit down with him and tell him about our dad, tell him about our pain, and that this is really an urgent matter,” Shargi said.

She added that she knows Biden is “an empathetic, amazing person.” 

Tara Tahbaz, a daughter of Morad Tahbaz, who has been imprisoned since January 2018, told Mitchell that her family also has been asking for a meeting with the president and that it is Biden’s “duty” to figure out a way to secure the release of the three Americans held in Iran.

Morad Tahbaz, seen here with his family, has been imprisoned in Iran since 2018.
Morad Tahbaz has been imprisoned in Iran since 2018.Tahbaz family

“He’s our commander-in-chief. It is his duty to bring Americans home who are wrongfully detained,” Tahbaz said.

“However he needs to do that, I will leave that up to him to determine it,” she said.

She added: “I think this is a humanitarian issue, and it should be separate from policy and politics. And we need to put patriotism before politics and make those difficult decisions, as we saw him make with Brittney Griner, to do what he needs to do to bring them home to their home country.”

In an interview with Mitchell, Roger Carstens, the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, defended the “hard decision” that opened the way for Griner’s release. 

“It’s unacceptable that an American stays in a foreign jail when they’re wrongfully detained, and sometimes that price is steep enough to pay,” said Carstens, referring to the exchange of Griner for Viktor Bout, an international arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S.

Asked why the families of Americans held in Iran have yet to get a meeting with Biden, Carstens said: “What I can tell you is that the president’s aware of these cases. He’s briefed weekly on these cases by Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken. “

Carstens added that Blinken carries a card with him in his pocket at all times with the names of every American wrongfully detained abroad. “And so whether someone receives a meeting with the president or not, I want you and I want them to know that we’re always still working these cases.”

Riots and tear gas

Iranian authorities have placed a travel ban on Tara Tahbaz’s mother, forbidding her to leave the country, and as a result, she and her siblings have not seen either of their parents for four years.

“It’s obviously been a nightmare that you couldn’t imagine,” Tahbaz said. “I think every opportunity we get to hear their voices, you know, you savor it, because you don’t know what can come.”

Roxanne Tahbaz Holds "Bring My Dad Home" protest Outside The Foreign Office
Roxanne Tahbaz, one of the daughters of Morad Tahbaz, holds a photo of him outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on April 13, 2022 in London.Rob Pinney / Getty Images

Hannah and Ariana Shargi have been campaigning for their father’s release since he was arrested in 2018. They said they feared for his life during recent riots when a fire broke out at Evin Prison in Tehran, where all three Americans are held. Human rights groups and the U.S. government say that the three Americans are unlawfully detained and that charges against them are baseless.

“He has gone through a very bad bout of Covid. There was the fire and the riots at Evin Prison, where we thought he was dead. We didn’t get to speak to him for two days,” Ariana Shargi said. “The riots were near him, in the building adjoining him, and he inhaled a bunch of tear gas.

“We’re so scared that every day the chance is just going to get less and less for him to be able to come home,” she said.

Damage caused by a fire in October at Evin Prison, northwest of Tehran.Koosha Mahshid Falahi / AFP - Getty Images

Asked about Emad Shargi’s imprisonment at a recent news briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said she was not familiar with his case. She said Biden was committed to securing the release of Americans wrongfully detained overseas. 

The third American held in Iran, Siamak Namazi, has been imprisoned for seven years. He made an emotional public appeal through his lawyer in September, saying the Biden administration should not tie the fate of imprisoned U.S. citizens to the outcome of stalled nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran.

“Gambling the fate of U.S. hostages in Iran on the success of the nuclear talks is negligent & cruel. We must be freed first, & now!” Namazi said in tweets posted by his lawyer.

His elderly father, Baquer Namazi, was imprisoned in 2016, later placed on medical furlough and eventually released in October.

Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi
Baquer Namazi, right, with his son Siamak Namazi.Courtesy Babak Namazi

Families of Americans jailed in Iran had high hopes earlier this year that negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran would pave the way for a breakthrough and win the release of their loved ones. But the talks bogged down, and now a wave of anti-regime protests in Iran has made it unlikely the Biden administration would be willing to lift economic sanctions in return for restored restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Biden came under criticism for the Griner deal, with some lawmakers saying Bout should not have been freed.

Hannah Shargi said her family hoped Americans would “stand behind President Biden and continue to give him the courage to make these really tough decisions” as he did in Griner’s case.