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Man Whose Father And Brother Are Imprisoned In Iran On Prospects Of Freedom


When my co-host Mary Louise Kelly sat down in Tehran last week to interview Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, she asked how Iran would retaliate for the U.S. killing of General Qassem Soleimani, also about the future of the 2015 nuclear deal and this.


MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Last question - there's something like five U.S. citizens still being detained in Iran, including the aging Baquer Namazi, who is in ill health.

JAVAD ZARIF: He's not detained.

KELLY: He's here.

ZARIF: He's here.

KELLY: He would probably prefer not to be.

ZARIF: Well, he's an Iranian citizen.

KELLY: Is there hope for future exchanges?

ZARIF: I don't think that this action by the United States helped.

CORNISH: Among those listening to that exchange was Baquer Namazi's son Babak Namazi. He spoke with Mary Louise from Dubai, where he now lives.

KELLY: Babak Namazi, welcome.

BABAK NAMAZI: Hi, Mary Louise. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: I want to just let people know for those who haven't followed your dad's case closely - he was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in an Iranian prison. Your brother Siamak was also sentenced and is in prison. Iran says they were collaborating with a hostile government, meaning the U.S. Can you bring me up to speed on what their current situation is, where they are?

NAMAZI: The situation, Mary Louise, has been the same, unfortunately, for the past 4 1/2 years. My father, as you mentioned, is 83 years old. He has been in extremely frail health. He is out on a very restricted medical furlough. Every few months, he has to convince a panel of government doctors that he is gravely ill and cannot go back to prison. He has to report to Evin Prison on a weekly basis, which horrifies us on each occasion. And my brother Siamak has been held captive for the past 4 1/2 years.

KELLY: So I think you're explaining the distinction that Javad Zarif was attempting to draw there when he said your father is not detained. That is because he is out on medical furlough. But to be clear, he's not free to leave Iran. Is that correct?

NAMAZI: My father is detained. My father is considered a prisoner, and he is on a very restricted medical leave. This reminds me painfully of a while back where Foreign Minister Zarif had claimed my father was not, in fact, in prison when he was in prison.

KELLY: Please take your time.

NAMAZI: That the Iranian government has been holding my family illegally for the past 4 1/2 years. They're both American citizens.

KELLY: They're dual national. Is that correct? They have Iranian and American citizenship.

NAMAZI: That's right.

KELLY: Well, may I ask - how are you able to speak to your father, to your brother? Can they make phone calls? Do they know that you're out here fighting for their release?

NAMAZI: For a very, very long time, they had no idea because they were in complete isolation. My brother was in solitary confinement for over a year. In fact, my father was only a few feet away from him, and for over a year, he was not even able to see my dad. In the past year, that has changed, and at least they have some basic access to information and contact with others.

KELLY: In my interview with Foreign Minister Zarif, he said the talks that had led to a past recent exchange were suspended for now. How much hope do you allow yourself to feel that 2020 may see your father and your brother leaving Iran?

NAMAZI: I was very confused by that statement that Foreign Minister Zarif made. We were talking about a humanitarian exchange. I would imagine it's an interest of Iran, as well as my family and as Americans and the U.S. government, to facilitate that humanitarian gesture, especially a time like this where we're facing some huge escalation between the relationships. We all need to remind ourselves to take a step back, and we need to show our humanity. And what better way to do that than show a humanitarian gesture by both sides?

KELLY: Is the U.S., is the Trump administration helping? Are you in touch with them?

NAMAZI: I am in touch with them. I have been in touch with them since the Trump administration came into office. President Trump has indicated that he cares for bringing hostages back home. I do get some hope with the recent exchange - that was a huge breakthrough - when Xiyue Wang, who was...

KELLY: You're talking about the American graduate student who was being held in Tehran, and the U.S. swapped back an Iranian scientist who'd been arrested here in the U.S. This was just in December.

NAMAZI: There was a tremendous sigh of relief between both sides when they were able to show that in spite of the relationships deteriorating - that number one, it's possible for Iran and the U.S. to sit down and reach, on an outward basis, a humanitarian agreement. And it also showed to the world and, I think, to both sides that they can engage on potentially other topics.

KELLY: That is Babak Namazi. His brother Siamak and his father Baquer are Iranian Americans. They are each serving 10 years for what Iran claims is collaboration with the U.S. government.

Babak Namazi, thank you for speaking with us.

NAMAZI: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.