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U.S. Hostage in Iran Stops Hunger Strike Under 'Severe and Unbearable Harassment'

With his health deteriorating further, an American hostage held by Iran since 2015 has ceased his seventh hunger strike 23 days into the protest.

Nizar Zakka said in a letter that his decision to stop the hunger strike "comes first in response to his family's pressuring demands on him to stop, and second, for reasons, some of them are political, that he will mention at a later time soon," the family said, adding that Zakka "highlighted that he has gone through an ongoing, severe and unbearable harassment because of the hunger strike."

Zakka -- already in frail health -- was removed from his cell and subjected to torture in December for refusing to capitulate to his captors' demands. His lawyer, Jason Poblete, said earlier this month that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps agents tried to force Zakka to make a video confession for crimes he did not commit, but he refused.

Zakka visited Tehran in September 2015 at the invitation of the Iranian government to speak at a conference on women's entrepreneurship and employment, and was seized as he tried to catch a return flight to Washington. The State Department even helped fund his trip, according to his colleagues.

He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage charges a year after his arrest, and his family warned months ago that Zakka is in "very bad health."

Zakka, a Lebanese-American and permanent U.S. resident, is secretary-general of the D.C.-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.

Since being invited and kidnapped, Zakka has weathered several protest hunger strikes -- including a 33-day hunger strike ending in July 2017 -- all while lobbying on behalf of fellow inmates to improve their conditions.

Early this year, an Iranian doctor hired by Zakka's family said the hostage may have cancer, but Iranian authorities were not allowing necessary diagnostics. Poblete confirmed that Iran authorities have not allowed Zakka access to a doctor in months.

"This was Nizar’s seventh hunger strike and we pray his last," Poblete told PJM today. "Stakeholders must do more to free Nizar on a humanitarian basis, for which he more than qualifies."

Current U.S. hostages in addition to Zakka include Bob Levinson (the longest-held hostage in U.S. history), Baquer & Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang, Karan Vafadari, Morad Tahbaz, and Robin Shahini in Iran; Austin Tice in Syria; Serkan Gölge in Turkey; Kevin King and Paul Overby in Afghanistan; and Jeffery Woodke in Niger.