Two Iranian-Americans, a father and his son, were sentenced last month to 10 years in an Iran prison. Another son, Babak Namazi, is working to free them, and talks to Steve Inskeep about the ordeal.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We have the story of two prisoners in Iran, as told by a man who knows both of them well. One of the prisoners is Siamak Namazi. He’s Iranian-American and was arrested last year. Not long after that, his father, Baquer Namazi, was also arrested in Iran. An Iranian court sentenced both of them to a decade in prison without showing any evidence in public. Iran says they were collaborating with a hostile government, which is to say the United States. Now Siamak’s brother, Babak Namazi, is speaking out. This is his first broadcast interview.
BABAK NAMAZI: Siamak is 44. Siamak is younger, maybe sometimes wiser. And he was actually arrested the night before his birthday. Therefore being over a year, he’s spent two birthdays in prison so far.
INSKEEP: Babak Namazi spoke with us via Skype from Dubai, which is where he lives. His father is retired, a former United Nations official. His brother, Siamak, is a former business consultant who was born in Iran, traveled the world with his father and attended Rutgers as well as at Tufts University in the U.S. Siamak Namazi became a U.S. citizen and remained an adventurous traveler. That’s why as a young adult he returned to Iran for years, even though that meant serving in Iran’s military.
NAMAZI: That’s the sense of adventure and independence that I’m talking about. Because when he first told me, I thought from all the other adventures he’s had, this by far with would be the most outstanding and yet, at least from my point of view, questionable in a sense, like, what are you doing? It’s one thing to go to visit a country for a few months. It’s a different thing to go and be there for some time. Are you sure? And Siamak has always been sure about his deep feelings of just getting to know the country.
INSKEEP: So he eventually became a business consultant in Iran. What was his goal there? What did he want to achieve?
NAMAZI: I think his goal was really to achieve, you know, bring the knowledge that he has and the education that he has and give something back. Siamak has displayed his caring for the Iranian people through his efforts in bringing to the attention of the authorities the negative effects sanctions have on humanitarian trade with Iran and in particular with lifesaving medicine. And this became a very, very big cause to Siamak.
INSKEEP: So you’re saying that he actually used his status as an American to argue on behalf of the humanitarian needs of Iranians?
NAMAZI: That’s right, Steve. He did that as an American, as an Iranian, and I think most importantly as a human being.
INSKEEP: So what was he doing in Iran when he was arrested in 2015?
NAMAZI: Siamak had gone for a weekend trip to Teheran to attend the funeral of a family friend and also to visit my parents, who are in Tehran. And on his way back – when he was flying back to Dubai when he went to the airport, he said his goodbyes to my parents. And when he arrived at the airport he was intercepted and told that he can’t leave.
INSKEEP: What happened then?
NAMAZI: What happened next, Steve, was Siamak was asked to report in for questioning. And those questionings continued from July of 2015 until October of 2015, where during one of these interrogations he never came back. And then we later found out that he was arrested and taken to Evin Prison.
INSKEEP: Do you believe he was in any way a spy?
NAMAZI: Absolutely not, even the suggestion is absurd.
INSKEEP: What do you think is the reason that he was actually held?
NAMAZI: Honestly, I have no idea, Steve. I’ve been waking up every day since he was prevented from leaving and asking my question – why, why Siamak? And that question, of course, got stronger as he was arrested and then followed by my father’s arrest. It became to a pounding question of why, why Siamak? Why my father? Both people who have a very well established reputation of having nothing but the interest of people in mind in general.
I mean, if you look at my father’s case, he has an impeccable record of international service in the most difficult parts of the world, spending time in countries like Somalia, Kenya, Egypt. Because they want to do good. Because they believed in the cause of humanity.
INSKEEP: How was your father arrested?
NAMAZI: My father was arrested in Tehran airport upon return from Dubai. He had come to Dubai for a few days to get some much-needed rest on my insistence. He was here for a few days and then he returned to Tehran. And upon his arrival, he was arrested.
INSKEEP: What was the reason given for that?
NAMAZI: I’m not sure if any reason was really given for that. I never had an opportunity to discuss it with the people who took him. My understanding is that they just needed to question him. And a few days turned into weeks, into months, to a indictment and now a unjust conviction of 10 years for both my father and my brother.
INSKEEP: How do you find out anything about them?
NAMAZI: With great difficulty, I mean, there are calls. And those calls are very, very general – I’m doing fine. I understand that Siamak has spent considerable time by himself and my father has spent some time by himself. And I’m very concerned for their physical well-being, for their mental well-being.
INSKEEP: How’s your mom?
NAMAZI: As a family, we’re devastated. It’s just being bombarded for the past year with one horrible event after another. I have half my family ripped away from me. I’m wondering if I will see my father again. It’s very horrible to say this, but he has been in essence handed a life sentence. A 10-year sentence for an 80-year-old man is a life sentence. But I have to do all I can to save my father’s life and my brother’s.
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INSKEEP: That’s the first broadcast interview by Babak Namazi. His brother Siamak and his father Baquer are Iranian-Americans, each serving 10 years in prison for what Iran claims is collaboration with the U.S. government.