Attorneys for three prisoners with strong U.S. ties are denouncing an Iranian appeals court ruling reaffirming their convictions on spying charges.
The three prisoners—two U.S. citizens and one U.S. permanent resident—reiterated their innocence through their lawyers and are accusing Tehran of detaining them and treating them brutally solely because they are Americans.
An Iranian appeals court informed the prisoners' families over the weekend that the charges against them had been affirmed.
All three face 10-year sentences on espionage charges. They were separately detained in the fall of 2015 after the deal aimed at rolling back Iran’s nuclear program cleared a major hurdle in Congress and the two sides were working through final details before implementation.
An attorney for Nizar Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident and Lebanese citizen who was invited to Iran to speak to an information technology conference, said Tehran is using his client and other U.S. and Western prisoners as "political pawns in international politics."
"It's wrong and inhumane," said Jason Poblete, Zakka’s attorney.
"Nizar was invited and given a visa. Nizar was kidnapped, and then Nizar was falsely accused of espionage," he said. "It appears that he was targeted for capture so that it coincided during a critical time of the [nuclear deal] negotiations."
"For these and other reasons, Iran remains a state sponsor of terrorism under U.S. law," he said. "We shall continue to press all governments that can and should help to demand that Iran unconditionally release of Zakka."
Zakka, in a statement delivered through his attorney, warned others with strong U.S. ties not to travel to Iran on "business or pleasure."
"If you value your freedom and are a foreigner, Iran is not safe for you. Don’t come here," he said, reiterating that Iran’s vice president for women and family affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi invited him to the country to speak at an informational technology conference. Afterward, he was kidnapped, jailed in Evin Prison, and falsely charged with espionage.
"I am innocent and the Iranians know it," he said. "There is no rule of law in Iran, and I am a victim of this, especially if you’re a foreigner. I will continue to speak out for freedom and justice."
Zakka recently ended his fifth hunger strike in protest of his treatment and continued imprisonment.
An attorney for Siamak and Baquer Namazi, the U.S. citizens imprisoned in Iran, said the notice of the upheld convictions came from the court but it provided no written decisions to the family.
"I condemn in no uncertain terms the cruel and unjust decision of the Tehran Appeals Court," said Jared Genser, the Namazis' attorney. "The Namazis are innocent of the charges on which they were convicted and they are prisoners of conscience, detained in Iran because they are American citizens."
Gensler recalled that Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently falsely claimed that Baquer Namazi, Siamak’s 81-year-old father whose health is deteriorating, was moved from Iran’s notorious Evin prison to house arrest.
"This was an utter fabrication," he said. "For the appeals court to now uphold their convictions shows unequivocally that this was just more psychological torture by the Iranian government designed to create great hope in the Namazis and then utterly destroy them."
Both attorneys pointed to steps by Congress and the Trump administration to try to raise awareness of the U.S. prisoners' plight.
Relatives for all three prisoners, as well as others, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 25. The next day the House passed a resolution calling for the release of all Americans held hostage in Iran.
Additionally, the White House issued a statement July 21st, warning that "President Trump is prepared to impose new and serious consequences on Iran unless all unjustly imprisoned Americans are released and returned."
Attorneys for the prisoners have said senior officials in the Trump administration are deeply engaged in trying to secure their release.
"In addition to the congressional resolutions approved a few weeks ago, and that the Senate may take up soon, we are grateful to the Trump administration and his team for their efforts," Poblete said.
Gensler said the state-run media in Iran recently has been "complaining vociferously about alleged actions by the United States" involving a number of countries in the region detaining Iranian nationals.
He also pointed to recent statements by Zarif during a recent trip to New York that he was interested in an exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States on humanitarian grounds.
If the Iranian government really wants to engage in such discussions, Gensler said, "Time is running out rapidly before it will have lost all credibility to be believed that it actually wishes to resolve these cases on humanitarian grounds."
Published under: Iran