An Iranian-American father and son have been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, according to the Iranian state-run judicial news agency. The State Department is calling for their immediate release and says they are “unjustly detained.”
Siamak and Baquer Namazi were convicted of “cooperating with the U.S government against Iran,” NPR’s Michele Kelemen tells All Things Considered.
A statement by family member Babak Namazi expressed “utter shock and dismay” at the news. He said that the 10 years handed to Baquer, 80, a former UNICEF official, is “tantamount to a life sentence.”
“This follows one court session of a few hours for each of them,” the statement reads. “The details of the charges are unknown to us as of yet.”
As Michele reports, “Baquer Namazi had gone to Iran earlier this year to visit his son, Siamak, who was already in jail for several months.” Karim Sadjadpour, a friend of the family, tells Michele that “Siamak Namazi is a business consultant who wanted to improve ties between the U.S. and Iran.”
In a statement, UNICEF said that it is “deeply concerned for his health and well-being.” Baquer worked as the organization’s representative in Somalia, Kenya and Egypt. “He worked tirelessly on behalf of children in all those positions, often in highly difficult circumstances. He deserves a peaceful retirement.”
Namazi, his son, was arrested a few months after his return to the country in 2015, says Sadjadpour, who is an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He tells Michele that he believes “Iranian hardliners are just trying to ‘delegitimize’ President Rouhani, whose government negotiated the nuclear deal” reached last year.
“Increasingly what the Iranian Revolutionary Guards do is they paint people like Siamak and his father — who are trying to be bridges between America and Iran — as Trojan horses who are trying to undermine and unseat the Iranian regime,” Sadjadpour adds.
Five Americans were released earlier this year, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, as part of a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Iran. A $400 million cash payment to Iran happened at approximately the same time as the prisoner handoff. Many observers had hoped Siamak would be part of that exchange.
Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, The Associated Press explains, “meaning those detained cannot receive consular assistance. In most cases, dual nationals have faced secret charges in closed-door hearings in Iran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.”
Michele reports that a Lebanese citizen who holds a U.S. green card was also sentenced to 10 years in prison today, and at least one other Iranian American is also in jail in Iran.
And as State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner noted in his statement, U.S. citizen Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, has been missing in Iran since 2007.