An attorney for an ailing elderly American imprisoned in Iran since early 2016 is pleading with the Iranian government to permanently release him after granting him a temporary medical parole, arguing that returning the man to prison would amount to a "death sentence."
Earlier this week, Iran allowed Baquer Namazi, an 81 year old with dual American and Iranian citizenship, a four-day leave from a hospital where he was being treated for a serious heart condition, as long as he remained in Iran and did not speak to the media.
That deadline was up Wednesday, but Iran extended it to Sunday with the condition Baquer meet with the government's medical examiner that day.
Late last week, Baquer, who has had several major heart surgeries and has a pacemaker to keep him alive, experienced a sudden drop in blood pressure, an irregular heart beat, and felt a serious depletion of energy, according to his attorney, Jared Genser. His family members worried that his life was hanging in the balance.
"I strongly urge the government of Iran to make Baquer's temporary medical parole permanent on humanitarian grounds," said Genser. "It is clear from the government's own doctors that returning him to prison would be tantamount to a death sentence."
Genser also said he hoped such a "gesture" from Iran would "pave the way" for the United States and Iran to come to an agreement that would result in the release of Siamak Namazi, Baquer's 45-year-old son, and "other wrongly imprisoned Americans" and provide Iran "accommodation regarding prisoners [in the U.S.] it is concerned about, where appropriate."
Siamak Namazi was jailed during a visit to Iran in the fall of 2015 just weeks after a deal between the United States and the Iranian government to roll back its nuclear capability survived congressional scrutiny and during so-called side-deal negotiations on the agreement’s implementations.
His father Baquer traveled to Iran in February 2016 to press for his son's release, and the government imprisoned him too. The two have undergone a series of harsh interrogations and were placed in solitary confinement for extended periods, according to his attorney and family members.
Baquer had undergone heart surgery before his jailing and has continued to suffer from heart problems during his two years in Iran's notorious Evin prison. In September, Baquer underwent emergency surgery to install a pacemaker to regulate his heart and keep him alive. The surgery took place after a five-day delay in Evin prison officials reacting to a physician’s recommendation of immediate hospitalization.
Before the Iranian government allowed Baquer a temporary leave this week, the government's medical examiner met with him and his doctors and Baquer's personal physician and the hospital's doctors said the prison conditions are a "major contributor" to Baquer's rapidly deteriorating health. They advised that returning him to prison would be "dangerous," Genser said.
The Namazis' family members in the U.S. have repeatedly pleaded with the Iranian government to release Baquer and Siamak and have openly worried that their family members would die in prison in Iran or meet the same fate as Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student imprisoned in North Korea who died just days after his return to the U.S. last year.
President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address invited Warmbier's parents as his guests and hailed their family as "powerful witnesses" to North Korea's horrors, during the speech.
During his campaign for president, Trump pledged not to tolerate Iran taking Americans hostage, and the Namazis, as well as the families of other Americans held in Iran, have called on Trump to do everything he can to fulfill that promise.
Aside from granting Baquer a temporary furlough from prison, the Iranian government has not shown any public signs of leniency to imprisoned Americans it continues to hold. An Iranian court sentenced an Iranian-American man and his wife to 27 years in prison on Wednesday, convicting them on espionage and other charges, according to the U.S. based Center for Human Rights in Iran.
The couple, Karan Vafadari and his wife, Afarin Neyssari, are Zoroastrians, believers in an ancient pre-Islamic religion, who are often persecuted in Iran.