Former Prisoner In Iran Says A New Hostage Crisis Is Brewing

Originally published on December 4, 2019 9:57 am
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Our next story takes us inside Iran's prisons. A U.S. resident is one of several foreign nationals who were imprisoned there and are now telling their stories in Washington. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Before he was released this past June, Nizar Zakka spent four years behind bars in Iran, describing the jail as a mini United Nations because there were detainees from all over the world.

NIZAR ZAKKA: This is definitely an industry. They're doing it for 40 years. They have been very successful. In fact, they are winning this game because they are doing it again and again and again. And they have no accountability whatsoever.

KELEMEN: Zakka, a Lebanese national and U.S. resident, says every country tries to deal with these cases separately. He was released as a gesture of goodwill to Lebanon. Others have been released in prisoner swaps. But he argues it would be better for countries to work together to confront the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

ZAKKA: It is state terrorism in its purest form. From the minute they take you, they deal with you as a hostage.

KELEMEN: Zakka was speaking in a Washington, D.C., law office, along with family members of other foreign nationals currently being held in Iran. Among them, American Babak Namazi, who's advocating for the release of his brother and his father. Namazi says it's been difficult to communicate recently because of protests in Iran.

BABAK NAMAZI: It's been difficult for anyone to have any communications with the Internet being disconnected. Telephones have always been challenging. I have not been able to have as many contacts with my brother there. There's more overcrowding. Obviously, it's already very overcrowded. And there are more and more people being brought in.

KELEMEN: Richard Ratcliffe is also hearing about overcrowded prisons from his wife Nazanin, a British-Iranian charity worker jailed 3 1/2 years ago.

RICHARD RATCLIFFE: For all of the women who are with Nazanin in the cells, I'm deeply worried as to where Iran is going and what that means and looking to the outside world to care and to watch and to report.

KELEMEN: Ratcliffe argues that the international community should hold Iran to account for the way it's cracking down on protesters and should not lose sight of the cases against dual nationals like his wife.

RATCLIFFE: There should be a real clear cost to hostage-taking. It should be an anathema in the modern world.

KELEMEN: Ratcliffe is calling for targeted sanctions and other ways to raise the costs on Iran. Sarah Levinson Moriarty, the daughter of a former FBI agent, Bob Levinson, says her family will be in a D.C. court this week to sue Iran.

SARAH LEVINSON MORIARTY: A big portion of our lawsuit is punitive damages because we want to discourage them from doing this practice to anyone else. It's horrific what they've done to my father.

KELEMEN: In a recent filing to the United Nations, Iran acknowledged that it has an open court case involving Levinson, who disappeared in 2007. Moriarty says that means Iran knows more about her father than officials claim.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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