Son of U.S. Hostage in Iran: Dad 'Fighting for His Liberty, Indeed, His Life'

WASHINGTON -- Families of some of the Americans unlawfully detained by Iran's regime pleaded with Congress and the administration today to bring their loved ones home, with witnesses including a 19-year-old who reported that his imprisoned father is on the 30th day of his latest protest hunger strike.

"All of this pain and suffering has led my dad to this ongoing hunger strike; he told me the other day that we do not put our heads down for anyone," Omar Zakka told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. "My dad said that he would rather die for his cause than live with injustice and what they are doing to him."

Omar is one of the three sons of Nizar Zakka, a D.C. information technology and economic development expert who visited Tehran at the invitation of the Iranian government to speak at a conference on women's entrepreneurship and employment, was seized as he tried to catch a return flight in September 2015. The State Department even helped fund his trip, according to his colleagues.

The Lebanese-American and permanent U.S. resident is secretary-general of the Dupont Circle-based IJMA3 group, which lobbies for the information and communications technology industry in the Middle East. Zakka earned degrees from the University of Texas after graduating from the Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Ga., in 1985. He used to work as a software engineer at contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root in the early '90s.

He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage charges a year after his arrest. Friends of Zakka -- including former Riverside Military Academy president Col. James Benson (USMC ret.), Army Major Gen. John Peabody (ret.), and former Assistant Secretary of the Army Paul Woodley -- have lobbied the State Department to "mount a humanitarian effort" to free the IT expert, arguing he is "a man without country when it comes to consular assistance" as the Lebanese government wouldn't take up the U.S. resident's case.

Omar was a cadet second lieutenant at Riverside, his father's alma mater, when Nizar Zakka was seized.

"While my dad is of a strong and sound mind, he is fighting for his liberty, indeed, his life. This week marks five weeks of hunger strike. His body may be weak, but his will, as I said, as strong as ever. My dad is innocent and, as he says, will not be forced to do things against his will, including signing forced confessions," Omar Zakka told lawmakers.

"All of my brothers are very proud of him. Our dad is truly a great man, maybe a better man than I'll ever be. My dad has devoted his life for humanitarian and development work. In other words, helping others."