WASHINGTON (CNA)—Family members of American citizens imprisoned in Iran pleaded with members of Congress on Tuesday to advocate for their safe release.
“Please help me bring my father and brother home. I am losing my entire family. We are simply running out of time,” Babak Namazi, who has both a brother and a father in Iranian prisons, told members of the House Subcommittee on North Africa and the Middle East in a July 25 hearing.
Family members of four prisoners in Iran testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the subcommittee in the hearing “Held for Ransom: The Families of Iran’s Hostages Speak Out,” pleading for Iran to release their loved ones in custody.
Bob Levinson, who formerly worked for the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, is the longest-missing of the four, and is the “longest-held hostage in American history,” according to his son Douglas who testified on Tuesday.
Three days after his father went missing, an Iranian news outlet reported that he was “in the hands” of state officers. Yet “Iran has repeatedly changed their story,” Douglas Levinson said. “Iran is responsible, and they know exactly where he is.”
On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution, H. Res. 317, which called on Iran to unconditionally release the Americans who are being detained for political reasons. It also calls on President Donald Trump to prioritize their release.
Currently, there are four Americans (three citizens, one legal permanent resident) who are being detained by the state because of alleged spying or working with a hostile foreign government: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Nizar Zakka.
Robert Levinson has been missing from Iran’s Kish Island since 2007, and despite its commitment to his safe return to the U.S., “the regime has not remotely fulfilled its commitments to help bring him home,” Rep. Ed Royce, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stated on Wednesday.
“Iran continues to engage in the despicable practice of detaining foreigners on fabricated criminal charges,” he said, and according to former political prisoners there are reports of “electric shock, forced drug withdrawal, whippings, and solitary confinement.”
“We stand in solidarity with these Americans and their families as we call for their release,” Royce said.
Iran holds many political and religious prisoners, including political dissidents and members of religious minorities. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has labeled Iran a “country of particular concern” as one of the countries with the worst records of protecting religious freedom.
The commission noted in its most recent annual report that the number of religious prisoners has increased since President Hassan Rouhani took office in 2013.
Iran held Pastor Sayeed Abedini in custody from 2012 until January 2016 when he was released in a prisoner exchange with the U.S. A Christian pastor who became an American citizen, Abedini worked with house churches in Iran and was arrested after working at an orphanage for allegedly threatening Iranian national security.
Religious freedom advocates claimed he was arrested by the state because of his Christian faith. During his time in prison there were reports of his torture and abuse suffered at the hands of the regime.
The three witnesses who testified on Tuesday expressed serious concern for their loved ones in Iran.
Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak was arrested in Iran in October of 2015 and whose father Baquer was detained in February of 2016 during a trip to Iran where he tried to see his son, told of how both have suffered while in prison, including while in solitary confinement.
His 81-year-old father has a “severe heart condition that requires medication and may shortly require a pacemaker,” Namazi said, and “has been twice been hospitalized for a week at a time” in recent months.
“It is obvious that his condition, both physical and mental, is rapidly deteriorating. My father’s prison sentence is a death sentence,” Namazi said.
Meanwhile, his brother has suffered in “horrific” conditions, he said, including prolonged isolation and regular beatings and tazings.
Omar Zakka testified about his father Nazir who has been imprisoned in Iran for two years. Nazir, who has suffered physical abuse in prison, is currently on a hunger strike, Omar said.
“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 said.
“My dad said that he would rather die for his cause than live with injustice and what they are doing to him. In fact, he said this phrase to us, in Arabic, that translates to ‘liberty or death’.”
Douglas Levinson said his father, due to his long absence, has missed several of his children’s weddings and graduations, and has never met five of his grandchildren.
“We need Bob Levinson, we need my father back now,” Douglas said on Tuesday. “It’s been 10 years. He’s missed so much.”