Families of Iran’s hostages unite to pressure Tehran

Link to Article

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

Link to Article
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.”

Representative Ted Deutch Speaking to the House of Representatives for Bob Levinson’s Resolution

Rep. Deutch on his Resolution on Bob Levinson

Moments ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed my resolution urging our government and our allies to work tirelessly to bring Bob Levinson home to his family and home to our South Florida community. I told everyone who was watching to use social media (#WhatAboutBob) to talk about Bob and to stand with Bob's family and the U.S. Congress in telling Iran that we will not rest until the Levinson family is made whole again. Bob is the longest-held hostage in America's history. As we mark nine years since he was abducted in Iran, our community stands together, and this Saturday at 2 pm, we will stand as one at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts.Here's my plea to my colleagues:

Posted by Congressman Ted Deutch on Monday, February 29, 2016

S. RES. 99


1st Session

S. RES. 99

Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history.


Mr. NELSON (for himself and Mr. RUBIO) submitted the following resolution:


Calling on the Government of Iran to follow through on repeated promises of assistance in the case of Robert Levinson, the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history.

Whereas United States citizen Robert Levinson is a retired agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a resident of Coral Springs, Florida, the husband of Christine Levinson, and father of their seven children;

Whereas Robert Levinson traveled from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Kish Island, Iran, on March 8, 2007;

Whereas, after traveling to Kish Island and checking into the Hotel Maryam, Robert Levinson disappeared on March 9, 2007;

Whereas, in December 2007, Robert Levinson’s wife, Christine, traveled to Kish Island to retrace Mr. Levinson’s steps and met with officials of the Government of Iran who pledged to help in the investigation;

Whereas, for more than eight years, the United States Government has continually pressed the Government of Iran to provide any information on the whereabouts of Robert Levinson and to help ensure his prompt and safe return to his family;

Whereas officials of the Government of Iran promised their continued assistance to the relatives of Robert Levinson during the visit of the family to the Islamic Republic of Iran in December 2007;

Whereas, in November 2010, the Levinson family received a video of Mr. Levinson in captivity, representing the first proof of life since his disappearance and providing some initial indications that he was being held somewhere in southwest Asia;

Whereas, in April 2011, the Levinson family received a series of pictures of Mr. Levinson, which provided further indications that he was being held somewhere in southwest Asia;

Whereas Secretary of State John Kerry stated on August 28, 2013, “The United States respectfully asks the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to work cooperatively with us in our efforts to help U.S. citizen Robert Levinson.”;

Whereas, on September 28, 2013, during the first direct phone conversation between the heads of government of the United States and Iran since 1979, President Barack Obama raised the case of Robert Levinson to President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and urged the President of Iran to help locate Mr. Levinson and reunite him with his family;

Whereas, on August 29, 2014, Secretary of State Kerry again stated that the United States “respectfully request the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home”;

Whereas, on July 14, 2015, the Governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and Iran agreed to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action;

Whereas, on January 16, 2016, the Government of Iran released five Americans detained in Iran, Jason Rezaian of California, Saeed Abedini of Idaho, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati of Michigan, Matthew Trevithick of Massachusetts, and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari;

Whereas, on January 17, 2016, President Obama stated `even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob,’ referring to Robert Levinson, and that `each and every day but especially today our hearts are with the Levinson family and we will never rest until their family is whole again.’;

Whereas, on January 19, 2016, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated that the United States Government had `secured a commitment from the Iranians to use the channel that has now been opened to secure the release of those individuals that we know were being held by Iran…to try and gather information about Mr. Levinson’s possible whereabouts’;

Whereas, on November 26, 2013, became the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history; and

Whereas the Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced a $5,000,000 reward for information leading to Mr. Levinson’s safe return: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) recognizes that Robert Levinson is the longest held United States civilian in our Nation’s history;

(2) notes the repeated pledges by and renewed commitment of officials of the Government of Iran to provide their Government’s assistance in the case of Robert Levinson;

(3) urges the Government of Iran, as a humanitarian gesture, to act on its promises to assist in the case of Robert Levinson and to immediately provide all available information from all entities of the Government of Iran regarding the disappearance of Robert Levinson to the United States Government;

(4) urges the President and the allies of the United States to continue to raise with officials of the Government of Iran the case of Robert Levinson at every opportunity, notwithstanding ongoing and serious disagreements the United States Government has with the Government of Iran on a broad array of issues, including Iran’s ballistic missile program, sponsorship of international terrorism, and human rights abuses; and

(5) expresses sympathy to the family of Robert Levinson for their anguish and expresses hope that their ordeal can be brought to an end in the near future.

Excerpt from President Obama’s speech today

“Meanwhile Iran has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson, missing from Iran for more than 8 years. Even as we rejoice in the safe return for others we will never forget about Bob. Each and every day and especially today our hearts are with the Levinson family. We will not rest until their family is whole again.”

We truly hope that he keeps his word. Our family needs to be whole again.


Media Coverage of Dan Levinson’s Testimony During the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 2, 2015

Washington Post:


Sun Sentinel:


New Day – CNN


Associated Press (via U.S. News & World Report online):




Agence France Presse (via Yahoo! News)


NY Daily News:


ABC News online:


Fox News.com:




Detroit Free Press:


Christian Daily: