Yellow Ribbon Project

'I Don't See a Way Out' for U.S. Hostages in Iran, Says Former Detainee

Hua Qu, the wife of Iran detainee Xiyue Wang, holds a portrait of her family in Princeton, N.J., on May 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

As three U.S. hostages — one seized by North Korea during the Obama administration, two seized during the Trump administration — fly home to the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was less certain about the outcome of other American detainees.

Speaking to the traveling press corps in Japan today, Pompeo was asked about the announcement of the Iran deal being scrapped at the same time negotiations with North Korea moved forward, and three hostages being liberated from Kim Jong-un’s forced labor camps while more Americans languish in Iran’s hellish prisons.

“People might say you’re leaving some Americans behind while you’re picking others,” a reporter noted.

“Well, we’re doing our best to get them all back. There are Americans being held in several places, right. There are Americans detained in Syria as well,” Pompeo said, not directly referring to journalist Austin Tice, kidnapped in 2012 and believed to be held by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. “When I was the CIA director, I could see the State Department and all of the United States government was focused on getting every one of those Americans returned wherever they were.”

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who was detained on false espionage charges by Iran from November 2015 until January 2016, told CNN on Tuesday, “I don’t see a way out for these people now. There is no more – no more mechanism to negotiate with the Iranians.”

“The five Americans that are currently being held in Iran, and Bob Levinson, who we haven’t heard about in about 11 years, these people are going to get lost in the shuffle, unfortunately,” he said.

Morad Tahbaz of Weston, Conn., was among several current and former staffers of the Persian Heritage Wildlife Foundation arrested on Jan. 24 and 25, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran. Tehran Prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi claimed Saturday that members of the group “were gathering classified information in strategic fields under the guise of scientific and environmental projects.” Tahbaz co-founded the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation in Iran and Persian Wildlife Foundation in the United States to help augment conservation hampered by small budgets and meager staff allocated by the Iranian government.

Around the time Tahbaz was taken, the attorney for Nizar Zakka, a permanent U.S. resident and IT specialist arrested in 2015 after Iran invited him to speak at a conference on women’s entrepreneurship and employment, said that it is believed he has colon cancer but Iranian officials won’t let him get treatment. Zakka has been sharing a cell at Tehran’s notorious Evin prison with U.S. citizen and Princeton University doctoral student Xiyue Wang, who was arrested in August 2016 and later sentenced to 10 years in prison after officials claimed his academic research of late 19th and early 20th century Eurasian history was espionage.

Supporters of Xiyue Wang are planning a Saturday rally on the Princeton campus to bring attention to his plight. His wife, Hua Qu, will speak at the event, along with other family members and friends.

Iran also holds 81-year-old Baquer Namazi, who was arrested in Tehran in February 2016 after trying to secure the release of his son, Siamak Namazi, a U.S. citizen and businessman who was arrested in October 2015 while visiting a friend in Tehran. In October 2016, the Namazis were sentenced to 10 years in prison “for spying and cooperating with the U.S. government against Iran.” Baquer Namazi has been hospitalized four times in the past year, and has life-threatening heart problems.

American hostage Karan Vafadari, 56, an art gallery owner and Zoroastrian arrested in July 2016 along with his Iranian wife, Afarin Niasari, received a 27-year sentence and 124 lashes for “collusion in plots against national security,” “storing smuggled foreign alcohol,” “possessing my father’s opium pipe,” and having 124 “inappropriate” CDs, six packs of playing cards and marijuana. Vafadari wrote this year that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had “tried to convince Afarin to give false statements against me, to say I was a member of the Mossad and the CIA… so they could hang me.”

Retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, who disappeared nearly 11 years ago off the coast of Iran, is America’s longest-held hostage. Last year, the Levinson family filed a lawsuit against Iran in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia “for injuries suffered by each of them as a result of Iran’s unlawful acts of hostage taking, torture and other torts.”

“The pros and cons of this decision will continue to be debated in the days to come,” Levinson’s daughter Sarah Moriarty wrote in the New York Law Journal today of the president’s choice to pull out of the nuclear deal. “But unbelievably, in all the public commentary to date about what’s at stake with any new Iran deal, there has been essentially no mention of the Americans who are being imprisoned by the Iranian regime.”

“For the past 11 years, we have been unable to get any acceptable response from the Iranians as to what happened to my father, and we feel that our efforts to get him home are at a complete stalemate,” she added. “We are desperate for justice and mercy, and day after day, the Iranians and their Supreme Leader fail to provide it.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the floor of the upper chamber this morning that the release of hostages by North Korea shows that people “cannot forget that no regime has the right to hold Americans citizens in captivity without cause, and under no circumstances should American citizens be viewed as bargaining chips by foreign capitals.”

“I hope that President Trump and Secretary Pompeo are clear about that, because the same goes for the other countries around the world that are wrongly detaining Americans – Iran and China – countries in the world think they can detain Americans, and get something in return? We’ll see many more hostages,” he said.