Baquer Namazi, Held by Iran for 7 Years, Is Released


An Iranian American who was held captive in Iran for seven years was released on Wednesday for urgent medical surgery, according to his lawyer and the U.N.

The man, Baquer Namazi, 85, a retired UNICEF official, was imprisoned in 2016 by Iranian authorities during a visit to Iran to check on his son, Siamak Namazi, who had been arrested the year before while on a business trip. The Namazis were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power — the United States — in a secretive trial in Iran in October 2016, but the precise nature of the accusations has never been made clear.

A video released by Iranian state media on Wednesday appeared to show Baquer Namazi on a tarmac struggling to board a flight of stairs, accompanied by a man dressed in traditional Omani clothing.

News of his release on Wednesday was confirmed by his lawyer, Jared Genser, who posted a photo of Mr. Namazi aboard a plane before it departed for Muscat, Oman. After a brief layover, Mr. Namazi would continue to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates “for urgent medical treatment,” at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, Mr. Genser said.

Mr. Namazi, who had been released from prison but barred from leaving the country, suffered from arterial blockages that could be deadly, according to his family, who had been pleading with Iran for years to let him leave the country for treatment.

The senior Mr. Namazi was previously released from prison for surgery in 2018 to unblock his right carotid artery. In 2020, Iran’s judiciary informed the father that his sentence had been commuted and returned his bail. But the government refused to renew his Iranian passport, effectively holding him hostage.

Mr. Namazi’s health took another turn last month when he was diagnosed with another blocked carotid artery, putting him at high risk of a stroke. That development may pushed Iranian officials to approve his release.

“Although they wanted to trade him for something of value, they were starting to realize it would be far worse to have him die in Iran than to let him leave,” his lawyer, Mr. Genser, said in a phone interview.

The announcement comes as nationwide protests have engulfed Iran for weeks after a 22-year-old woman died in the custody of morality police, who accused her of accused of violating the country’s law mandating head scarves for adult women.

““I am just so grateful that after so long, I will shortly be able to embrace my father again,” Mr. Namazi’s other son, Babak, said in a statement provided by Mr. Genser, who said Babak was driving to Dubai from Abu Dhabi to greet his father for the first time in over six years. In his twenty years of working on political prisoner cases, Mr. Genser said, he’d never experienced a family having two loved ones in prison at the same time. “That takes a toll that is twice as much,” he said.

Mr. Namazi had a brief reunion with Siamak, 51, the longest-held American prisoner in Iranian custody,­ on Saturday in Tehran after Siamak was granted a week-long furlough from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison so that he could see his father.

“Baquer’s singular focus as a father is to get his son out of jail,” Mr. Genser said. “Assuming all goes well with the surgery, he’ll re-emerge publicly and be an advocate for Iran and the United States to come together and bring these cases to a final resolution.” Mr. Genser said he was hopeful that Siamak’s furlough would be extended, and that a deal for his release, too, might be possible.

Efforts to release the father and son were helped by the U.N., Switzerland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Britain. The Namazi cases have garnered international attention for years and remained focal points of unofficial talks between the United States and Iran. But American officials insist that the negotiations surrounding the prisoners are not related to any talks to return to a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which have stalled.

Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday that Secretary General António Guterres was “grateful that, following his appeals to the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, our former colleague Baquer Namazi has been permitted to leave Iran for medical treatment abroad.”

Mr. Guterres and the Omani foreign minister thanked the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, and Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, over the phone on Wednesday for Mr. Namazi’s release, according to Iranian state media.

The U.S. State Department also celebrated the success but emphasized “our efforts are far from over.”

“We remain committed and determined to securing the freedom of all Americans unjustly detained in Iran and elsewhere,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, wrote in a statement.

At least two American citizens are still being held captive by the Iranian government on charges of spying and threatening national security. A 66-year-old businessman and conservationist, Morad Tahbaz, has been detained since 2018. And Emad Sharghi, 56, a businessman, was arrested in January.

On the same day as the Namazi’s were released, Venezuela announced that seven Americans who had been held captive in Venezuela for years were on their way home in exchange for two nephews of Cilia Flores, Venezuela’s first lady, officials said.

The news comes as, the United States is still trying to negotiate with Moscow for the release of the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, a former Marine, both of whom are in prison in Russia.

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