The families of seven men detained in Iran have published an open letter to world leaders, pleading with them to do “what is in your power to help secure the release of our loved ones” and ensure their safe return home. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted Monday that “the regime must release Bob Levinson and all other U.S. hostages immediately.”
Sarah Moriarty’s father Robert Levinson was detained more than 11 years ago, and has had no contact with his family since. Nadim Zakka’s father Nizar Zakka was kidnapped after attending a conference on women’s empowerment in Iran.
Here & Now’s Robin Young talks with Moriarty and Zakka, who say they both fear for their fathers’ mental and physical well-being. For Zakka, who was studying for his bachelor’s degree at the time of his father’s kidnapping, he says his “whole life turned around.”
“It’s really taken a toll on my life personally,” he says. “But no one’s going to ask for my father’s release more than I am. No one’s gonna want his release more than I do. So that’s why I do it because I know no one’s going to work as hard.”
Having developed friendships with these other families, Moriarty says in a way, she has taken on their pain, too.
“Everyone’s stories are so deeply upsetting, and there should be international outcry,” she says. “And the hardest part is that my family has not had any contact with my father for the 11 and a half years, and to hear these families suffering as well, it’s very hard.”
On how the families met
Sarah Moriarty: “We actually met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, and several families met together, and we realized that all of our stories were so similar, our frustrations with getting attention on our loved ones’ cases as well as our challenges in dealing with our own governments.”
On Zakka’s father’s kidnapping
Nadim Zakka: “My father was invited by the vice president of Iran at the time to speak at one of her conferences on women’s role in entrepreneurship. After attending her conference and even having dinner with her and her crew, my father got kidnapped on his way to the airport by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
“The same person that invited my father to attend the conference put out that interview through the Associated Press saying it was a mistake, and it’s in no way acceptable. Now again, my father was kidnapped by the [Iranian Revolutionary Guard]. Whether they’re having issues internally or whether they are just throwing the blame towards someone else, I really don’t know.
“It reached a point where they’re inviting known people, they’re inviting people that they know that people are going to ask about, just so they can use them as bargaining chips.”
Moriarty: “They are being used as bargaining chips. There’s been 20 individuals who have been taken by the Iranian government or Iranian authorities since my father was taken 11 and a half years ago. Our letter represents seven of them, but there are more. And this continues to happen and will continue to happen if the Iranians are not held accountable for it. That’s what we’re asking for in this letter is for concrete steps.”
On the kidnapping of Moriarty’s father more than 11 years ago
Moriarty: “Well first of all, my father was not hiding anything. When he went over there, he went under his own name and his own passport. He was there for both private business and as a contractor for our government. He has been kept without his most basic human rights for 11 and a half years. We don’t understand why there is not more of an outrage. This man, my father, is 70 years old. He’s not in good health from all reports that we’ve received, and he was there on behalf of the U.S. government. His two passions were his family and the U.S. government. He was one of the first to be held, and he’s always been left behind by our government, and he shouldn’t be any longer. He needs to be first to come home.”
On what the U.S. government is doing to bring the captives home
Moriarty: “I think they’re trying hard. I think it will never be enough until my father is brought home. I am so appreciative for Ambassador [Richard Grenell’s] efforts. He has been one of our biggest proponents since my mother and I met with him in September. Ambassador [Nikki Haley] has also started to take up the cause, but we need more from administration officials. We need them to put this at the forefront of every single conversation they have.”
On conditions for Zakka’s father in Iran and being in contact with him
Zakka: “Well, my dad right now lives underground with about 20 to 30 other people in a rat-infested cell with cockroaches and bed bugs all over the ground. He’s currently with another U.S. citizen … who was a Princeton student that was doing his doctorate and got kidnapped as well. The worst part about being able to speak to my dad, I would say, is that when they’re in Iran when they’re held, they’re getting tortured mentally and physically. And when they’re getting tortured mentally, they use family members. They use phone calls to play mind games with their detainees. I’ve had to argue with my father all the way across the world. They would basically try to convince their detainees, for example, with their kids like, ‘Your kids are living their own lives. They don’t care about you. They’re not asking about you.’ That their spouses left them behind and found someone else. So when I’m trying to help my dad, all I’m getting is feedback from him saying, ‘You did this. You did that.’ And it’s all paranoia that’s instilled by by his captives.
“At the end of the day, he is my father. And he’s, in my opinion, he’s one of the greatest men that ever came. He devoted his life for advocating freedom of speech and freedom of the internet. He feels sometimes that he needs to watch out for us. He’s always hopeful that he will leave. Some days I just hear him talking, and I think to myself, ‘How can he be so strong being held in Iran? How can he have no fear from the authorities?’ And his life is at stake every day. No one can really do anything to get him out. And at the same time, no one can stop them from doing anything to him. No one can stop them from torturing my father.”
On how these cases compare to the outcry against Jamal Khashoggi’s death
Moriarty: “We’ve seen international outcry in that case, and we’re looking for that as well. We want every citizen to call up their government. These individuals have been tortured. They’ve been in solitary confinement. They’ve been denied medical care. Several have never received a fair trial. My dad has had no trial. And action needs to be taken. And each individual person can ask their governments to take further action and concrete steps.”
Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on December 10, 2018.