VOA News: Families Join to Press Iran to Free Detainees With Ties to the West

This article was published by VOA News. The original publication can be found here.

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Composite image of five Western-linked detainees held by Iran. From left to right: Xiyue Wang, Baquer Namazi, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Siamak Namazi and Nizar Zakka.

Iran’s practice of detaining foreigners and Iranians with Western ties for alleged security offenses has prompted their families to join forces for the first time to lobby international diplomats for their release.

In the first gathering of its kind, family members of the detainees collectively met with officials of the United States and other nations Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, urging them to press Iran to free their loved ones.

Levinson family

One of those who joined the campaign is Daniel Levinson, a son of American Bob Levinson, who went missing in Iran 11 years ago. Family members believe Tehran is holding the elder Levinson, but Iranian officials have denied knowledge of his whereabouts.

“By working with these other families, the goal is to make sure that the world is not forgetting that Iran has taken a number of American hostages,” Daniel Levinson told VOA Persian Thursday via Skype from New York. “We have to band together, make sure our message gets out and continue to work with whoever in the U.S. government and international governments can help us.”

Levinson said he met with several U.S. officials this week in New York.

“It seems like they are pressing our case to get (my) dad home,” he said. “We also have several (other) governments who hopefully will be talking to the Iranian government during their (UNGA) meetings.”

In remarks this week to a New York forum of U.S. advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton both repeated U.S. calls for Iran to locate Bob Levinson and enable him to return home.

“We are encouraged that the Trump administration is taking the right steps to keep the pressure on Iran and make sure that they are not going to get away with my dad being taken (captive) for this long,” the younger Levinson said.

British-Iranian charity worker

Another family member of a detained Westerner who joined this week’s lobbying efforts in New York was Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe — a British-Iranian charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation held in Iran for 2½ years.

“We don’t normally say Nazanin is a hostage, (although) I do talk about her being a bargaining chip,” Ratcliffe said in an article posted by the Foundation on Thursday. “She hasn’t done anything (wrong). And actually … (she is a) state-held hostage. The U.K. needs to do something. The U.N. needs to do something.”

Family members of Western-linked foreigners and Iranians detained by Tehran long have accused it of using their loved ones as bargaining chips in Iranian disputes with Western powers. Iran has said little about the detainees beyond the alleged security offenses that they have been charged with. Relatives and other supporters of the detainees say those detainees are innocent.

In a report published Wednesday, the U.S.-based rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it has documented the cases of 14 Iranian dual or foreign nationals whom Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has arrested since 2014. HRW said Iran’s security apparatus has escalated its targeting of such dual citizens and foreign nationals whom Tehran perceives to have undesirable links with Western academic, economic, and cultural institutions.

Those detainees include Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi, Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, and Lebanese U.S. permanent resident Nizar Zakka.