A lawyer representing an Iranian-American father and son held in Iran illegally has appealed to the UN to take immediate action on their cases amid intensified concerns over their health and safety.
Speaking at a press conference in Vienna on April 25, Jared Genser appeared alongside Babak Namazi, the brother of Siamak Namazi and son of Baquer Namazi, who said it was his duty to persuade the UN to act.
"I am here today because I fear that unless something is done quickly I may not see them again, ever," Babak Namazi told the audience. Genser, the Namazis' lawyer, appealed to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to enact its “urgent action process” to help secure the Namazis’ release.
Freedom Now, which defends the rights of prisoners of conscience and those held in arbitrary detention, submitted its report to the UN on the same day that US and Iranian officials gathered in Vienna for talks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the nuclear deal. In an op-ed for US News and World Report on April 24, Babak Namazi acknowledged the renewed tensions between the US and Iran. For him, “the high-stakes political drama that is about to unfold is deeply personal. The fate and lives of my father and brother, who are both American hostages in Iran, could well be determined by how the US-Iran relationship develops from these meetings.”
Namazi described the heartbreak his family experienced when they realized his brother was not included in the group of prisoners released as the nuclear deal came into effect on January 16, 2016. “I was told that by the previous administration that Secretary of State John Kerry had obtained a promise from his Iranian counterpart Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif that Siamak would be released within weeks of the release of the other hostages. That promise was broken.”
The Namazis and US-Iran Relations
US Secretary of State Tillerson has described Iran as “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.” In recent comments about issues the Trump Administration attends to address, Tillerson made a reference to Iran’s imprisonment of US citizens, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer mentioned Siamak and Baquer Namazi by name following the Trump administration’s sanctions on the Tehran Prisons Organization on April 13. But, said Jared Genser, the Namazis cases “could have an outsized impact on the trajectory of US-Iran relations because both are in rapidly declining health."
In October 2016, President Trump tweeted about the Namazis' case: “Well, Iran has done it again. Taken two of our people and asking for a fortune for their release. This doesn't happen if I'm president!” Babak Namazi is now hopeful that the Trump administration can help bring about his brother and father’s freedom.
Freedom Now’s legal team Jared Genser, Nicole Santiago, and Elise Baranouski submitted the petition to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, part of the Human Rights Council. It outlines the cases of the Namazis, and in particular points out fears for their health and safety, the illegal nature of their arrests, and the fact that they have been denied urgent medical care, regular family visits, and reading materials. It emphasizes that prisoners are regularly subjected to intimidation and torture, often with the aim of extracting forced confessions.
“Both Siamak’s and Baquer’s current detention conditions clearly constitute clear, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and may very well rise to the level of torture,” the submission reads. “Without intervention, it is unclear how much longer the Namazis can withstand the physical and psychological distress imposed by the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards]. There is a great risk that the suffering inflicted on the Namazis may cause irreversible damage to their physical and mental health, or even death.” It also says that Siamak’s health in particular has deteriorated and that his family fears that he may be suicidal.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has set up an "urgent action" procedure for cases that indicate a life-threatening situation. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as part of this procedure, an urgent appeal can be sent to the government of the country concerned via diplomatic channels. This appeal requests that the government take “appropriate measures" to ensure the rights of a detained person are upheld and that they have access to "fair proceedings before an independent and impartial tribunal as well as the right to life and to physical and mental integrity.”
The Revolutionary Guards arrested Siamak Namazi on October 13, 2015 while he was in Iran on business. Prior to his arrest, he had been reporting to interrogators on a regular basis for a period of three months. The Guards arrested Baquer Namazi on February 22, 2016 after he flew into the country from Dubai to visit his son. Agents did not provide arrest warrants in either case.
The Namazis are known for their humanitarian work, and in particular, their efforts to improve the lives of Iranians. Baquer Namazi worked for UNICEF for many years, and Siamak Namazi’s work focused on bringing business to Iran to boost the country's economy.
"It causes my family unrelenting and enormous pain to see how their bodies, minds, and spirits have been crushed in Evin Prison," Babak Namazi told the Vienna audience. "But despite all of the cruelty that we have witnessed, it is not too late. I urge the Iranian government to step back before either my father or brother – or both of them – die in their custody."