Please stand up for human rights and freedom for political hostages in Iran

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by Sarah Moriarty
Monday, 10 December 2018 10:30 GMT

Sarah Moriarty is a daughter of Robert Levinson who has been held hostage in Iran since March 9, 2007.

Today is the 70th Anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. My father, Robert Levinson, was just a baby when it was first introduced in 1948. Who would have thought then that this declaration would have a direct connection to his life – and the lives of the other hostages being held in Iran.

My family and five other families of political hostages in Iran from across the globe recently sent an open letter to our governments and UN officials asking for urgent help and the release of our loved ones. Their human rights are being violated every single day without action by these important world leaders.

Our fathers, husbands, brothers, grandfathers, friends all made the mistake of setting foot on Iranian soil after the Iranian authorities reinvigorated their hostage taking efforts in early 2007. Robert Levinson, Saeed Malekpour, Nizar Zakka, Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi, Kamran Ghaderi, Ahmadreza Djalali – each of these men are being denied the fundamental human rights values of justice and human dignity. There are countless other individuals also held by Iranian authorities. We speak loudly on their behalf.

We all feel the same pain. We fear for each of our loved one’s safety, his well-being, his sanity. Each of these individuals is being used as a bargaining chip, with his health declining rapidly and without his most basic human rights, but the Iranian authorities have been allowed to get away with treating people this way over and over again. We cannot just let these people die in Iranian prisons.

Many countries have condemned Iran, but with no result. We appreciate these efforts and condemnations, but without Iranian authorities seeing a direct impact for the human rights violations they are committing, they will continue to do this and get away with it. This is an epidemic to which the world needs to demand an end immediately.

We received a tremendous response to our joint letter. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, “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. They should be released immediately and returned to their families. We won’t rest until they are.”

Ambassador Richard Grenell also released a statement saying that our letter “should be of concern to every government of the world interested in human rights.” He encouraged the public “to demand the release of all these hostages.”

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tweeted that “six families of hostages held by Iran have come together to remind the U.S. government of its responsibility to do everything it can to bring their loved ones home.”

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton tweeted how “the Iranian regime’s continued practice of hostage taking places it among the worst human rights abusers on earth.”

Shamefully, we have yet to hear from the government of Iran.

We united families won’t stop here – we need concrete steps and action from our governments. This is just the beginning of our combined voice and we are asking each and every person to do whatever is in their power to help us stand up for the human rights of Bob, Saeed, Nizar, Siamak, Baquer, Kamran and Ahmadreza.

We won’t stop until our loved ones are home.

Son of American missing in Iran since 2007 pleas for his return

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By Hollie McKay | Fox News

If he’s alive, retired FBI agent Robert “Bob” Levinson remains the longest-held American hostage in history – having disappeared in Iranian territory almost 12 years ago.

But there’s no “if” in the eyes of his children, who refuse to give up hope and are convinced he’s very much alive, and being held by the Iranian regime.

“He is being held against his will, with no human rights or access to his family,” David Levinson, 31, told Fox News in an interview last week. “It’s inconceivable that, almost 12 years later, we have no answers. The Iranian government knows what happened to my father and needs to send him now. We continue to push for more action by our government, and awareness of his case worldwide.”

Despite unconfirmed reports their father died in Iranian custody, his family believes he is “alive and trying every day to come home.”

The last affirmed proof of life emerged in late 2011, with photos of him donning an orange jumpsuit. Despite those images, Iranian officials have insisted they have no knowledge of him, and are not holding him as a political prisoner.

“We talked to many people prior to 2010 who though my father passed away in captivity, and the proof-of-life video and photos proved them wrong. We do not know where he currently is, but know that he was taken on Iranian soil by the Iranian government,” David Levinson continued. “We have no reason to believe he is not in Iran.”

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in 2017 stated Iran was indeed responsible for Levinson’s capture, and his “continued deprivation in liberty.”


And in December, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged several “innocent Americans” are being held hostage globally, highlighted Levinson’s case, and spoke of the need for him to be released. The FBI has a offered a five million dollar reward for information that could lead to his safe return.

For his family, no efforts or public declarations will be enough – until he’s home.

“We know this is a government-to-government issue, so we need President Trump’s help to make this the first priority in any discussions with Iran,” David said. “We know that Iran can send him home. We believe our father is alive and fighting every day to come home to us. We know that President Trump and the Iranian government have the means to work out a deal in which he can be brought home.”

Levinson, who was 58 when he disappeared in March 2007, had spent decades as a devoted DEA and FBI agent. He was retired and on contract with the CIA when he boarded a flight from Dubai to the Persian Gulf resort known as Kish Island. He was allegedly investigating cigarette smuggling and meeting with a possible Iranian source who was being targeted for CIA recruitment.

“The advice and the steadiness he brought to our lives is what I miss the most,” David added. “He is the kindest, most compassionate man you could ever meet. He lights up a room and leaves an impression on everyone he meets. My dad is a wonderful family man. We just want him back home with his family where he belongs to live the rest of his life quietly surrounded by people who love him.”
Hollie McKay has a been a Fox News Digital staff reporter since 2007. She has extensively reported from war zones including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Burma, and Latin America investigates global conflicts, war crimes and terrorism around the world. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @holliesmckay

Families Of Hostages In Iran To World Leaders: Bring Our Loved Ones Home

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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.”

Interview Highlights

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.

Families of Iran hostages, Robert Levinson call on world governments to step up and ‘send our loved ones home’

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By Greg Norman | Fox News

The family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson and the relatives of nearly a half dozen others held captive in Iran say they “shall remain quiet no longer” about demands for world governments to help secure the release of those hopelessly detained in the Islamic Republic.

The declaration came in an open letter addressed to “World Leaders, Rights Organizations and Media Outlets” that was published by the group earlier this week. The families have “banded together now to come to you as one voice,” the letter stated.

“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,” the letter reads. “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 highlighted the plights of six dual and foreign nationals who have been held hostage in Iran: Ahmadreza Djalali, Kamran Ghaderi, Nizar Zakka, Saeed Malekpour, Siamak and Baquer Namazi and Levinson. The latter four are some of the nearly 20 known American hostages who remain in captivity or who have been imprisoned by hostile regimes.

Zakka, a Lebanese-born Internet freedom activist who is a permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Iran in September 2015 while attending a woman’ empowerment conference he was invited to. He has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges.

A month later, Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman, was nabbed while visiting his family, three months after the Obama administration-led Iran nuclear deal was signed.

Namazi’s father, Baquer, a former UNICEF diplomat, was arrested in February 2016 after the Iranian authorities granted him permission to visit his son in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran.

And Levinson, now believed to be the longest-held American hostage in history, was 58 when he boarded a flight from Dubai and then made his way to Kish Island, a resort in the Persian Gulf, in 2007. He was allegedly investigating cigarette smuggling and possibly working on a book, but after checking into the Maryam Hotel, he met with an American fugitive, Dawud Salahuddin, also known as David Belfield and Hassan Abdulrahman.

Salahuddin, who is still wanted for the 1980 murder of an Iranian diplomat in Maryland, was being targeted by the CIA for recruitment, a source close to the Levinson case told Fox News in 2016. Levinson was hoping a successful mission that delivered Salahuddin would lead to full-time hours with the CIA, the source said.

The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, which includes Levinson as a member, told Fox News that it feels like he is being used as “a bargaining chip for a hostile foreign power.”

“I think we need to commend the Trump administration for really preaching hard on this and realizing that Iran is a hostile foreign power and that they continue to take these hostages,” added the society’s executive director, Nancy Savage.

The FBI said earlier this year that the bureau and “our partners in the United States Government have worked tirelessly to bring Mr. Levinson home” – and a $5 million reward has been offered for Levinson’s safe return.

But Levinson’s family — and the others who wrote and signed the letter — say more needs to be done.

“Over several agonizing years, our loved ones’ cases have each been treated individually, but while they are all unique and complicated cases, this is not an individual problem, it is a pattern; a pattern we call on world leaders to help end,” the group said in its letter. “Responsible stakeholders on all sides of this issue know what to do. Please, secure our loved ones’ freedom from Iranian prisons.”

The relatives added: “We are a determined group of individuals and families speaking to our governments with one voice, as human beings who have been affected by the horrific situation that the Iranian authorities have created. We are asking for action.”

Richard Grenell, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany who previously was the longest-serving U.S. spokesman at the U.N., said this week Levinson’s family deserves information on his conditions and whereabouts. Levinson last surfaced in a 2011 video clip.

“I encourage the public to demand the release of all these hostages,” he said, referencing the open letter. “We will not rest until Mr. Levinson, and the rest of Iran’s hostages, are safely home with their families.”

Fox News’ Hollie McKay, Jennifer Griffin and Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.

Open Letter by Six Families of Dual and Foreign Nationals Imprisoned in Iran

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December 3, 2018

An Open Letter to World Leaders, Rights Organizations and Media Outlets

We are the families of political hostages in Iran, and we ask for your urgent action.

We come from many countries, with different backgrounds and different perspectives, but we have banded together now to come to you as one voice. We shall remain quiet no longer.

In September 2018, at a side event during the United Nations General Assembly, several of our families gathered together for the first time to share stories and struggles about getting our loved ones released. We met again a few weeks ago, this time to share our testimonies with the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran. The similarities between our loved ones’ cases is striking. Each story is not just a case of arbitrary detention, but deliberate and tactical moves by the Iranian authorities to secure bargaining chips.

Ahmadreza Djalali, a Swedish-Iranian scientist, was invited by Iranian universities to develop training for researchers, and was arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran in March 2016. He was kept in solitary confinement for more than 3 months, and without any access to a lawyer for 6 months. During that time, Ahmadreza was harmed physically and tortured psychologically, and falsely led to believe that he would be released if he made a confession as dictated by the intelligence agents. He was forced to do an interview that was later edited and aired on state TV to accuse Ahmadreza of unfounded allegations. Ahmadreza has not received a fair trial since being held for 985 days, despite no evidence ever presented against him and calls by the UN, academics and 75 Nobel laureates for his release. After being denied medical care for over a year, after two long hunger strikes, each lasting 40-50 days and leaving him in very weak physical condition, he has now been transferred to a hospital for emergency surgery. His physical state is extremely poor due to such a prolonged wait for medical attention
Kamran Ghaderi, father of three, Austrian/Iranian citizen and IT consultant, was arbitrarily detained at the airport when he arrived from Vienna to Tehran for a regular business trip in January 2016. Initially, he was held in solitary confinement without charges, and after three months of isolation, torture and false promises by authorities, Kamran signed a forced confession. His lawyer only visited him for the first time for 20 minutes the day before he was issued a 10-year imprisonment sentence for conducting espionage on behalf of a hostile nation. He has had no consular access. While in prison, he has had two operations in which doctors removed intervertebral discs and operated on his spinal cord. He also has a tumor on his left leg bone that has not been treated. Today is the 1,066th day of his detention
Siamak Namazi was arrested, tried, and summarily convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “collaborating with a hostile state,” referring to the United States. He was held for over two years in exceptionally harsh conditions in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled wing of Evin Prison, including in solitary confinement and while being forced to sleep on a hard floor with no mattress, and being physically and psychologically tortured. He has been held for 1,145 days, since October 2015.
Baquer Namazi is Siamak Namazi’s 82-year-old father, who was also given a 10-year sentence on charges of collaborating with a hostile state. An ex-UNICEF staffer, he has suffered from deteriorating health, and has been hospitalized seven times with various heart and serious ailments. While out of prison on restricted medical leave, his health continues to decline. Baquer has been held for 1,015 days, since February 2016.
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and U.S. legal permanent resident, is a world-renowned Internet freedom and freedom of speech advocate. He is the World IT Alliance Vice Chairman, UN-ITU member, and Secretary General of IJMA3: a consortium of 19 Arab ICT associations. He was invited to Iran by the Vice President for a women empowerment conference. After the conference, he was kidnapped by the IRGC on his way to the airport. Recently, in an AP interview,President Rouhani’s Advisor admitted that Nizar’s kidnapping was in no way approved by the government. Never before heard of in recent history has a country officially invited a guest and then taken him hostage.Nizar has been held for 1,172 days, since September 2015.
Saeed Malekpour was wrongly imprisoned in October 2008 when he traveled to Iran from Canada to say goodbye to his dying father. Saeed is currently held in Evin Prison on a life sentence. He was brutally tortured both physically and psychologically to force him to confess to a list of accusations carved out for him by the IRGC. He was sentenced to death twice and kept in solitary confinement for more than three years. He lived with the fear of execution for five years, despite no evidence ever presented against him. Saeed has not received a fair trial since being held for 3,711 days, more than 10 years.
Robert Levinson, an American citizen, “disappeared” on Kish Island, Iran. The Iranian government has never publicly admitted to taking Bob (as his family calls him) but a PressTV article initially reported he was being held by security forces and would be “freed in a matter of days”. 4,287 days later, over 11 ½ years later, Bob’s family still has had no contact with him. He has been held without his most basic human rights. His family has only seen a hostage video and photographs received from unnamed captors. The Iranian authorities have thwarted any attempt for the United States to investigate further, blocked due process in Iranian courts, and allude to a list of demands whenever his name is brought up.

The evidence is conclusive, and we should call this what it is: hostage taking. Since Mr. Levinson disappeared, over 50 people with some connection to a western power have been taken hostage by the Iranian authorities. According to arecent report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, as many as 20 are still held hostage in Iran.

Over several agonizing years, our loved ones’ cases have each been treated individually, but while they are all unique and complicated cases, this is not an individual problem, it is a pattern; a pattern we call on world leaders to help end. Responsible stakeholders on all sides of this issue know what to do. Please, secure our loved ones’ freedom from Iranian prisons.

Our outreach now is not about international politics. We are a determined group of individuals and families speaking to our governments with one voice, as human beings who have been affected by the horrific situation that the Iranian authorities have created. We are asking for action.

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. 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. 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.

Do what is in your power to help secure the release of our loved ones and their safe return home by ensuring that their cases are at the top of the agenda of any dialogue with the Iranian authorities. Please act urgently before any more time has passed or pain imparted.

Please clearly and immediately join with us to tell the government of Iran that this behavior will no longer be accepted and must end now. We call on you to send our loved ones home to us.


The families of Robert Levinson, Nizar Zakka, Saeed Malekpour, Kamran Ghaderi, Ahmadreza Djalali, Baquer and Siamak Namazi, and the many morefamilies who remain silent in fear for the safety of their loved ones

* A copy of this letter was sent on December 2 to government officials within the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Austria, Lebanon, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Oman, the President of the European Commission, the European Union (EU) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, members of the European Parliament, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, and members of the UN Security Council.

Families of Iran’s hostages unite to pressure Tehran

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By Jason Rezaian
Global Opinions writer
December 3, 2018

The families of Americans and other foreign nationals imprisoned in Iran are calling on world leaders to confront the Islamic republic over its long legacy of state-sponsored hostage taking.

For decades the international community has failed to summon the political will to tackle this problem. But now there is growing momentum for rooting out a long-established pattern of thuggish behavior by the Iranian regime.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation has published a report showing that, despite Iran’s persistent claims to the contrary, these arrests are arbitrary in nature and are designed to specifically extract concessions from foreign governments. (The foundation employs British citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, one of the detainees.)

In a joint letter released Monday, the families noted that the “evidence is conclusive, and we should call this what it is: hostage taking.” Since U.S. citizen Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran in 2007, the letter notes, “over 50 persons with some connection to a western power have been taken hostage by Iran.”

According to the Reuters report, as many as 20 individuals are still held hostage by the Iranian regime, as relatives of several prisoners have chosen not to publicize their detentions.

In September, during the United Nations General Assembly, some of the families of the hostages gathered in New York, for the first time, to commiserate and brainstorm on action.

I attended that September meeting along with my wife and brother. We went to share our experience with those families who are still struggling to win the freedom of their loved ones. It was a sad occasion, but the realization that they are not alone has motivated them to make a collective bid for greater action by allied governments.

Making this a problem that is not solely American, I believe, is a smart move – one that is long overdue.

One of the previous occupants of my cell in Evin Prison in Tehran was Saeed Malekpour, a Canadian who has been detained since 2008. Within days of my release, Nizar Zakka – a Lebanese citizen who is a U.S. permanent resident and was in Tehran to speak at a conference on the invitation of a member of Iran’s cabinet – was moved into that same cell.

Relatives of both men are among the letter’s signers.

To his credit, President Trump has repeatedly prioritized freeing the hostages, although the administration has yet to bring home any of the Americans detained in Iran.

Senior State Department officials who work on Iran attended the family meeting in September, reiterating the president’s commitment to putting an end to the Islamic republic’s ugly habit of imprisoning innocents for use as future leverage.

“Our relationship with Iran will never improve until they release the American citizens they have unjustly imprisoned. Respectable countries don’t take hostages,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told me via email.

Although the November 1979 raid on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, when 52 American diplomats were taken hostage and held for 444 days, was one of the defining moments of the revolution in Iran, citizens of other countries have also been targeted.

“The similarities between our loved ones’ cases are striking,” the family statement notes. “Each story is not just a case of arbitrary detention by the Iranian government, these are all deliberate and tactical moves by that government to secure bargaining chips.”

I have spoken with officials from several U.S. allies since my release, and while they agree that this is a global problem, there is a quiet consensus that Washington must take a lead role in solving it. Yet given that Washington has no direct lines of communication with Tehran, how this can be done remains unclear.

Needless to say, Iran could create some much-needed goodwill for itself by releasing all of these hostages.

The British Foreign Office is aggressively seeking the release of its citizens being held in Iran. During a visit to Tehran in November, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt made the release of Zaghari-Ratcliffe – who has been detained on trumped-up charges and separated from her husband and young daughter since April 2016 – a top priority in his meetings with Iranian officials. He continues to call them out publicly, asking Tehran to release all unjustly imprisoned foreign nationals.

“I went to Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: Putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage,” Hunt told me. “If they continue to do so, there will be consequences.”

The reality, though, is that for nearly 40 years there has been no real punishment for Iran’s hostage taking. Conversely, some factions of the regime in Tehran see it as a key instrument of their foreign policy.

It is time for world powers to publicly affirm that Iranian hostage taking is unacceptable. This is an urgently needed first step in a concerted effort to change Tehran’s often destructive behavior. But such action will have an effect only if further abductions lead to clear consequences.

Iran’s policy of kidnapping Americans must end

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By Robert C. O’Brien, opinion contributor — 09/26/18 02:30 PM EDT

One of the most under reported foreign policy stories today is the fact the Americans are held hostage by terrorist networks and pariah states throughout the Middle East. The worst kidnapper of Americans is a nation state — Iran.

Iran has pursued a deliberate policy of kidnapping and unjustly detaining innocent Americans since the very beginning of its revolutionary regime. In its infancy in 1979, the regime violated every norm of diplomacy for the past two millennia by holding 52 American diplomats from our embassy in Tehran hostage for 444 days.Since then, Iran, either directly or through Hizbollah or its other proxies, has kidnapped American diplomats, hikers, students, tourists, naturalized United States citizens visiting their families in Iran, businessmen and sailors. Iran sadly continues this uncivilized and unethical conduct even today.

Bob Levinson’s family has been trying to bring him home for over 11 years. Bob has missed his children’s and grandchildren’s weddings, graduations, baptisms, first communions and birthdays for over a decade. Cruelly, since admitting that Iran held Bob in custody back in 2007, the regime now denies knowing anything about him. It is hard to imagine the suffering Iran has inflicted on Bob and his family for more than a decade.

Siamak Namazi is being held under terrible conditions in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. Siamak is a well-respected American-Iranian businessman and Wilson Scholar. For two years, he has been held by Iran for the sole purpose of being used as a bargaining chip with America. When the JCPOA was agreed to on July 14, 2015, Iran released a handful of Americans but not Siamak, who they are holding in reserve in the hopes of leveraging him against the United States.

Two years ago, Iran detained Princeton graduate student, Xiyue Wang. What was Xiyue’s crime? He was working on his PhD in Iran, studying, with Iran’s permission, the cultural history of the Qajar dynasty in the 1800s. Xiyue is a young husband and father. His five-year-old son, who is growing up without knowing his dad.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Xiyue had been wrongly accused of espionage, secretly tried and imprisoned, and called upon Iran to free the young scholar. In prior years, the same UN body has called upon Iran to release both Bob and Siamak.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry told an interviewer last week that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif promised him that Siamak would be released shortly after the JCPOA was signed. But Iran has not kept its word. Iran’s Supreme Leader argues that Iran should be able to keep the benefits of the JCPOA, while Siamak suffers in Evin Prison.

Since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that bringing Americans home is a top priority for his administration. The president and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo understand the terrible toll terrorist networks and pariah states like Iran take on our American hostages and their families.

The administration will not, however, further encourage terrorists and pariah states by paying millions or even billions of dollars to secure the return of our citizens or change our policy of promoting freedom around the world. That path only encourages more kidnapping, more pain and more suffering for Americans. We unconditionally reaffirm our no-concessions policy, to include condemning ransom payments to terrorist groups.

If Iran or others want to reintegrate into the international community, the first step is for them to renounce this barbarous practice and immediately release their American hostages. Kidnapping and bartering innocent civilians in a bazaar-like setting is unbecoming of a government such as Iran that likes to style itself as the heir to the thousands-years-old Persian civilization.

Relations between the United States and Iran can improve but will not get better so long as innocent Americans are held hostage. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will address the United Nations in New York this week. He should open his address with an announcement that Iran will unconditionally free Bob, Xiyue, Siamak and the other Americans held captive by his country.

Robert C. O’Brien is the special presidential envoy for Hostage Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Son Sees Hope for Missing American in US-Iran Deal Exit

May 09, 2018 8:39 PM
Michael Lipin and Payam Yazdian

A son of an American man who went missing in Iran 11 years ago said the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal presents a new opportunity to bring his father home.

In an interview with VOA Persian’s NewsHour program in Washington on Wednesday, Doug Levinson said the U.S. and Iranian governments should take advantage of that opportunity to resolve the case of his father, Robert Levinson.

The elder Levinson disappeared March 9, 2007, while visiting Iran’s Kish Island as a private investigator. He had retired from a 22-year career with the FBI nine years earlier.

“I think that the way this would be resolved is through the highest levels of government,” Levinson said, singling out the role of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The only way we are going to get this done is if [Khamenei] finds the mercy to send my father back to his family.”

Robert Levinson’s wife and seven children have been campaigning publicly for 11 years to try to locate him.

“He has been away from our family for such a long time — we have had several weddings and births of grandchildren, and he is missed so much,” Doug Levinson told VOA.

A statement posted on the family’s Facebook page said Levinson’s return should be a priority in any new U.S. negotiations with Iran. In his Tuesday speech announcing the U.S. exit from the 2015 nuclear deal, President Donald Trump offered to enter into talks with Iran on a “new and lasting” agreement that benefits the people of Iran and the wider region. Iran made no direct response to that offer.

In 2013, several U.S. news outlets reported that Levinson had been part of a rogue CIA intelligence mission, a claim that U.S. authorities have not confirmed. Iranian officials have long denied knowledge of his whereabouts.

In a letter to the editor of the New York Law Journal published on Wednesday, Robert Levinson’s daughter Sarah Moriarty adopted a more critical tone toward Iran.

“For the past 11 years, we have been unable to get any acceptable response from the Iranians as to what happened to my father. We have been told repeatedly that Iran is a country of laws, and the Iranian judiciary is scrupulous in its adherence to those laws. We know firsthand this is a lie,” she wrote.

In an interview with VOA sister network RFE/RL last year, Levinson’s wife, Christine, said FBI officials privately told the family that they believe Tehran is holding Levinson. The FBI has not publicly confirmed that assessment.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian service.

The United Nations Declares Iran is Responsible for the Detention or Robert Levinson

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention states that Iran is responsible for the detention of our father, Robert Levinson.

Find the full text here.

Portions quoted below from the rendering of the decision regarding the case of Robert Levinson.

“Based on the totality of the information received, the Working Group is of the view that the source has provided prima facie credible allegations that could be summarized as follows: Mr. Levinson was arrested on 9 March 2007 and has been detained since then by the Iranian authorities. A witness provided his family with information regarding his arrest, which was later confirmed through additional proof that, among other things, he was alive. The family has conducted its own investigations and taken the appropriate and reasonable legal actions required in the Islamic Republic of Iran, albeit in vain, as the courts have not even addressed their motion.
The Working Group therefore considers it to be an established fact that Mr. Levinson was arrested without any legal ground, in violation of his rights as established in article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 9 of the Covenant, and has been detained since then. This violation is further aggravated by the time elapsed — almost 10 years — and the lack of due diligence by the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the light of the foregoing, the Working Group renders the following opinion:
The deprivation of liberty of Robert Levinson, being in contravention of article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, is arbitrary and falls within category I.
The Working Group requests the Government to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Levinson without any further delay and bring it in conformity with its international obligations as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant.
Taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the Working Group considers that the adequate remedy would be to release Mr. Levinson immediately and accord to him an enforceable right to compensation in accordance with article 9 (5) of the Covenant.”


Trump Under Pressure to Get Answers From Iran on Missing Ex-F.B.I. Agent

Link to NY Times Article
MARCH 5, 2017

WASHINGTON — Last year, when the United States and Iran exchanged prisoners, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the Tehran government had also pledged to help in the search for a long-missing American who had disappeared in Iran in March 2007.

To bolster that promise, Iranian officials secretly informed the Obama administration that they had received intelligence that the remains of an American had been buried in Balochistan, a rugged, lawless region in western Pakistan that borders Afghanistan and Iran. The remains, it was assumed, were that of the missing man, Robert A. Levinson, a private investigator and former agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who was also a part-time consultant for the Central Intelligence Agency.

But when the Pakistani authorities went to the supposed burial site, they did not find any remains. American officials concluded that the report, rather than a gesture of good will, was a gambit by Iran to further cloud its role in Mr. Levinson’s fate.

Today, a decade after Mr. Levinson vanished, the Trump administration faces a decision about what steps to take, if any, to bring a resolution of his case. As a candidate, President Trump vowed in 2015 to bring Mr. Levinson home, and the Levinson family has asked to meet with him in hopes he will take a more aggressive stance toward getting answers than President Barack Obama did.

While some American officials fear that Mr. Levinson died in captivity, his family remains convinced that he is alive and that officials in Iran know where he is.

“Iran knows exactly what is going on with Bob, and they need to tell the U.S.,” his wife, Christine Levinson, said in an interview last month.

A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Jennifer Arangio, said in a statement that administration officials had contacted Mr. Levinson’s relatives to assure them that his case was a priority.

“The U.S. government will never cease its efforts to bring back our citizens who are unlawfully detained or missing overseas,” the statement said.

Mr. Levinson traveled to an Iranian island on a rogue mission to recruit an intelligence source for the C.I.A. on March 7, 2007. He has been seen since then only in a hostage videotape made in 2010 and a series of photographs. Mr. Levinson was 59 when he disappeared and had health problems.

For the past decade, Iranian leaders have repeatedly denied knowing anything about Mr. Levinson. But American intelligence and law enforcement authorities have long been convinced that elements of Iran’s political, religious or intelligence hierarchy such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were involved in his detention and, possibly, his death.

While the 2010 videotape showing Mr. Levinson as a prisoner gave no hint about who was holding him, F.B.I. investigators concluded that the video was so artfully staged that it was probably made by a state-sponsored intelligence group such as a unit of the Revolutionary Guards Corps.

That videotape was also routed through Pakistan. Investigators believe the information about the burial of an American there was part of a continuing Iranian intelligence narrative meant to distance that country from Mr. Levinson’s case, according to American officials.

Mr. Levinson’s fate may have become entangled with that of a top Iranian spy who reportedly defected to the West in late 2006, not long before Mr. Levinson vanished.
On two occasions last year, Iranian diplomats, when pressed by their American counterparts about Mr. Levinson, asked for information about the Iranian operative, Ali Reza Asgari, former American officials familiar with those talks said. Iran has long been seeking to locate Mr. Asgari, who reportedly took secrets about Iran’s nuclear program to the West with him.

A former top officer in the Revolutionary Guards, Mr. Asgari went missing while on a trip to Istanbul. There was speculation at the time of Mr. Levinson’s disappearance that he was seized in revenge for Mr. Asgari, but intelligence officials have played down that link. Nonetheless, Iran officials have long been hunting Mr. Asgari and for years have mentioned his name in connection with Mr. Levinson.
Mr. Kerry, in a meeting in September with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, brought up Mr. Levinson, saying that the United States wanted a “resolution” of the missing American’s case, even if the information showed that Mr. Levinson had died.

Those talks, which were unsuccessful, also involved efforts to resolve the cases of two Iranian-Americans: Siamak Namazi, a businessman in his 40s, and his father, Baquer Namazi. They are in an Iranian prison after their sentencing last fall on charges of spying and cooperating with the United States government. American officials have said the charges are false.

In December, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion, based on information supplied by Mr. Levinson’s family, that Iran had illegally arrested and detained the investigator. The Iranian government, which was provided with a copy of the United Nations group’s finding, did not respond.

During his final years in office, Mr. Obama repeatedly said that bringing Mr. Levinson home was a priority. But his administration never publicly confronted Iran over its denials about Mr. Levinson or made public evidence gathered by the F.B.I. during its decade-long investigation of his case.

The Obama administration’s former special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, James O’Brien, said he could not discuss specifics related to talks with Iran about the missing investigator. But he insisted that American officials had “raised his case at every opportunity with the Iranians and tried everything we could think of to bring him home.”

One of Mr. Levinson’s daughters, Sarah Moriarty, said that she was hopeful that Mr. Trump would make her father’s case a priority in all talks with Iran, which she said the Obama administration did not do.
“They didn’t get him home,” Mrs. Moriarty said. “They failed.”