Families of Americans Imprisoned in Iran Applaud Trump's Call for Their Return in UN Speech

Son says urgent action needed to save 81-year-old father held in Tehran after he underwent Tuesday heart surgery

Donald Trump at U.N. General Assembly Speech
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September 19, 2017

Families and advocates for Americans imprisoned in Iran applauded President Trump for demanding the release of all U.S. prisoners and others unjustly detained in Tehran during his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday.

Family members of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, a father and son who are being held in Iran's notorious Evin prison, also urged Trump to take urgent action to try to secure their release. They warned that 81-year-old Baquer Namazi's life is hanging in the balance after he underwent heart surgery to install a pacemaker just hours before Trump spoke.

During Trump's speech to the United Nations, he demanded that Iran free all Americans, as well as those from other countries, who the regime is holding captive on false charges.

"It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations they have unjustly detained," Trump said.

The president also condemned North Korea for its "deadly abuse" of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia college student held in North Korea for more than a year and a half, much of it in a coma. Pyongyang released Warmbier in June while still in a coma to his parents in the United States, and he died just days later.

"My family is rapidly running out of time," Babak Namazi, the brother of Siamak and son of Baquer, said in a statement Tuesday after Trump's speech. "I hope and a pray that my father and brother won't suffer the same fate [as Otto Warmbier] at the hands of the Iranian government. I urge the president to spare no effort to bring my family home."

Trump's statements came one day after the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued an opinion declaring that the Namazis are being held illegally and demanding their immediate release.

Jared Genser, the Namazis' attorney, said Trump's "public engagement" on the hostage issue "must be followed by urgent action to secure the release of the Namazis."

A lawyer for another captive at Evin prison, Nizar Zakka, said Trump's public condemnation of Iran for taking the prisoners stands in stark contrast to the way the Obama administration initially handled the hostage taking. Zakka is a Lebanese citizen and permanent U.S. resident.

The Obama administration during the finalizing and implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement did not immediately acknowledge that Zakka and others were taken prisoner in Tehran and wouldn't say whether U.S. officials pressed their Iranian counterparts for their safe return during the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York last year.

"This week marks two years that Mr. Zakka was unlawfully detained by Iran," Jason Poblete, Zakka's attorney, said. "Unlike the Obama administration that hid the new Iran hostage crisis from the American people and other nations, unjustly detained persons such as Nizar finally have a strong voice for liberty in President Trump and his administration."

Last week, Baquer Namazi was taken to his cardiologist for a regular appointment, and his doctor recommended that he receive immediate attention at a critical care unit of the nearest hospital, Genser said. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps forces that were accompanying Namazi to the appointment refused to take him to the hospital until a doctor at Evin Prison countermanded their order.

Genser said the family fought intensely to get Baquer to the hospital over the weekend. He was hospitalized on Monday and earlier Tuesday underwent urgent surgery to install a pacemaker.

"Baquer has been informed he will shortly be returned to Evin Prison tomorrow, without sufficient time to recover from his surgery," Genser said, adding that Baquer Namazi has lost more than 30 pounds since his imprisonment, previously had a triple bypass operation and has suffered from "exhaustion, shortness of breath, dizziness and confusion."