“This is a nightmare I can’t describe.”
These are the words the mother of Tufts alumnus and Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi (A ’93), who was detained and arrested by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) without any public charges last October, wrote last week. Siamak is estimated to have been in detention for over 130 days, where he has practiced a hunger strike, according to his mother who learned this from his cellmate. At the time of Siamak’s arrest on Oct. 15, 2015, IRGC forces “ransacked the house, confiscated property and took the dual national to Evin prison,” according to an Oct. 30, 2015 article in The Atlantic.
The Namazi family dealt with another setback when Effie Namazi confirmed in a Feb. 24 Facebook post that her husband and Siamak’s 80-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, had been taken from the family’s Tehran home on Feb. 22 and detained in Evin Prison.
“I have been trying to find out more information but have been unable to do so, and the lawyer also couldn’t get any information or get to see him. I am extremely worried sick for Bacquer’s health since he is an 80-year-old man and has a serious heart [condition and others], which requires him to take special heart and other medicine,” Effie Namazi wrote. “I pray to God that my Siamak and Baquer return home to me and that they are released.”
Siamak’s arrest by IRGC forces follows a pattern of American nationals being detained in Iran, with his detainment occuring days before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal made between Iranian and U.S. governments to ensure Iran’s nuclear program would be “exclusively peaceful,” was adopted. According to a Jan. 17 Washington Post article, Iran also agreed to the release of five American prisoners in the nuclear deal, which included six nations — the United States, Germany, France, China, Russia and Britain. These prisoners included Iranian-American Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati and businessman Khosravi-Roodsari.
At the time of his detainment, Namazi was head of strategic planning for Crescent Petroleum Co. and living in the United Arab Emirates. He previously did business consulting and humanitarian work as a Middle East and North Africa public policy scholar for the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., where he researched and conducted a report focusing on how U.S. sanctions against Iran were denying Iranians access to necessary medicines and medical supplies, according to the Wilson Center’s website. In 2007, Namazi was named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, according to a Feb. 22 Global Gathering article.
Namazi holds several degrees including a BA in international relations from Tufts, an MBA from the London Business School and a masters in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University. Amir Soltani, a Fletcher graduate and former teaching fellow, said he taught Namazi when he was an undergraduate at Tufts in a class on Middle East history.
“He was fun, he was gregarious and he was very bold,” Soltani said. “He had no problem challenging other students or me, so he had quite a gutsy character, so he was actually a very good student. He cared very deeply for and cares very deeply for Iran.”
Namazi had left Iran with his family in 1983 to live in New York while his father served as a United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) representative to Somalia, Kenya and later Egypt, according to a Nov. 25, 2015 Huffington Post article. Following his graduation from Tufts, Namazi chose to go back to Iran and serve in the military, Soltani said.
“He did his military service,” Soltani said. “Which for somebody from his background and class and all of these things was quite surprising. And he learned a lot about Iran from that experience. I think what I want to convey is that he is somebody who cares very deeply. He’s never been completely Americanized. His Iranian identity was a great part of who he was.”
Evin Prison, where Namazi is located, is an infamous detention center where several detainees are held and subject to heavy interrogation and is notorious for allegations of torture. According to a Jan. 28, 2013 Fox News article, the prison is described as “Hell on Earth,” where detainees are subjected to beatings, torture and mock executions. Hadi Ghaemi, the Executive Director of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, said that experiences of detainees in Evin Prison are devastating, and detainees are often coerced into admitting to charges.
“Most of the detainees are held in Evin Prison many times under temporary detention orders,” Ghaemi said. “They are not charged in the beginning, and they are heavily interrogated. Usually that is the process in Iran, but in this case the process is reversed. There is no evidence for [a] charge so they try to hold the person in solitary confinement, cut them off from the outside world, interrogate them heavily and try to find out and ask them questions that they hope will lead to any new charges that they would bring against them.”
In response to Namazi’s continuing detainment by Iran, several Iranian-American groups, such as the nonprofit Pars Equality Center, have called on the U.S. Department of State to pressure Iran to release him. On Feb. 5, several groups signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to ensure Namazi’s release, describing his detention as both unjust and lacking in any legal foundation, according to a Feb. 8 press release by the National Iranian American Council.
Nazy Fahimi, senior director of the Pars Equality Center’s legal department, signed the letter on behalf of the organization. According to Fahimi, Namazi’s arrest is a clear violation of international human rights.
“It appears that as with many arrests there, this violates the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights and other applicable U.N. and international mandates,” Fahimi told the Daily in an email. “There is no indication there are any grounds for the arrest, detention or explanation of charges, trial or sentencing. The potential rights being violated include: freedom from false arrest, torture, lack of fair trial and freedom of movement, speech and thought.”
The IRGC, whose forces detained Namazi, is under the control and jurisdiction of the Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Supreme Leader’s position within Iranian politics is the highest head of state uniting both political and religious authority and is superior to Iran’s democratically elected president, Hassan Rouhani.
“The official government of President Rouhani, which carried out the nuclear negotiation, personally has much more access to communications with the State Department and Secretary Kerry than Iran has ever had,” Ghaemi said. “But so much is held by the other center of power… People who are competing with the Iranian government and are trying to undermine them. And typically, [holding] Iranian Americans in detention shows that they have the power to influence foreign policies.”
Iran has a long history of taking American hostages, as President Jimmy Carter’s and President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the Iranian hostage crisis made headlines following the overthrow of the U.S.-supported leader Reza Shah in 1979. Following the Shah’s exile, a new Iranian state was led by the first Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iranian groups to vilify and oppose any contact with the West. According to Soltani, the recent nuclear agreement Iran made with Western countries has challenged these beliefs and have ignited conservative groups to action.
“Ideologically since 1979, certain groups in Iran have defined themselves as well as defining Islam in terms of enmity against America,” Soltani said. “So the nuclear deal has eroded some of their ideological strengths. They are dealing with America, ‘the great Satan.’ So as a way of showing up their anti-Americanism they target people like Siamak, who has done a lot. Being both Iranian and American, he becomes a target.”
Although Rouhani agreed to the nuclear deal, the fragmentation of Iranian politics under Khamenei demonstrates a continuing aversion to Western relations. Bijan Khajehpour, Namazi’s former business partner, said that understanding Iran’s current political climate is key to understanding why Namazi is being detained.
“What we need to understand is that the majority of the society is in favor of the reformist / moderate policies,” Khajehpour told the Daily in an email. “This was underlined both in the 2013 election of President Rouhani as well as in the twin elections that were held on 26 February. Therefore, the hardline elements are being marginalized by the society and need to come up with excuses to continue their actions and operations. Such excuses are now reflected in the notion that the West (especially the U.S.) is trying to ‘infiltrate’ Iran in the aftermath of the nuclear deal. It is a ridiculous concept, but it is one based on which they can arrest people like Siamak and clampdown on civil society and independent media.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to make a direct statement about Namazi’s case; however, according to a Feb. 24 CBS News report, Kerry acknowledged at a Feb. 17 Senate panel hearing that he was aware of the situation and “could not comment due to privacy considerations.” According to Fletcher Professor of International Conflict Analysis and Resolution Eileen Babbitt, prisoner negotiations are often dealt with internally.
“I don’t know the internal processes at the State Department for such negotiations; such things are handled in an ad hoc manner,” Babbitt wrote in an email to the Daily. “I presume that if this case has been brought to the attention of those at the State Department who have been meeting with diplomats from Iran, they may have developed sufficient personal relationships to inquire informally about his release. On the other hand, these two matters may be handled completely separately by different parts of the State Department.”
The recent arrest of Siamak’s father Baquer, who like Siamak is a dual Iranian-American citizen, reveals the dangers that Iranian-Americans have to consider when traveling to Iran. As one of the few countries around the world that does not recognize dual citizenship, Iran has national identity laws that are based on the nationality of the father rather than place of birth. Bijan Khajehpour, who has also been detained in Evin Prison, said he believes Baquer’s arrest is meant to be a deliberate tactic to deal with Siamak.
“My reading is that they arrested Baquer Namazi, an 80-year-old, respected former UNICEF official, to put pressure on Siamak,” Khajehpour said. “It is not clear to me what they are trying to impose on Siamak, but now they have moved to such dirty tactics, whatever Siamak or his father ‘confess’ will be worthless because both father and son will try everything to help the other one in the process.”
Soltani said that Namazi’s case is significant for other Iranians within the diaspora, since it creates a panic for families like the Namazis with individuals being detained without any public charges.
“You can imagine the panic and pain that it causes for family and friends because you just don’t know who has arrested someone, and it’s just not safe,” Soltani said. “Ultimately in a way the hostage crisis with the American people is over, but the hostage crisis for the Iranian people continues…and just about anyone can end up in a situation like Siamak’s.”
Efforts to get the Namazis released have been largely ineffective, as friends and family are very much uninformed on the conditions of both Siamak and his father. According to Effie Namazi, her lawyer has been unable to see or communicate directly with the detainees. Evin Prison visitation rules have also been highly limited in the past. According to Khajehpour, Iranian-Americans have a role to play in securing his release.
“Iranian-Americans should use any opportunity to remind the Iranian officials that arbitrary arrests such as these two cases will undermine the willingness of the Iranian diaspora to return to Iran and help the country’s development,” Khajehpour said. “This may be exactly what the hardline forces want, but it cannot be what the Iranian moderates, society and business community want.”
Soltani said that the Tufts and Fletcher community should help push for the release of the Namazis.
“He was a Tufts student,” Soltani said. “We should ask our alumni, Fletcher alumni who are in positions of power all over the world, to speak on his behalf.”