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American Siamak Namaz, who has been detained in Iran since 2015, gave an unprecedented interview via phone from inside the notorious Evin Prison with CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Namazi is currently being held with two other Americans, environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, and businessman Emad Shargi. Shargi's sister, Neda Sharghi, and daughter, Hannah Shargi, join Amna Nawaz for an exclusive interview.
In an unprecedented move, an American detained in Iran has given an interview from inside the notorious Evin prison.
Siamak Namazi has been held for more than seven years. And he spoke by phone to CNN and PBS' Christiane Amanpour.
Siamak Namazi, Held Prisoner in Iran: I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued, and deals fall apart, or I get left abandoned.
Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help, and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So, this is a desperate measure. I — I'm clearly nervous.
Namazi is one of three American citizens held by Iran.
Environmentalist Morad Tahbaz was detained in 2018, as was businessman Emad Shargi. Shargi was sentenced without a trial in 2020 to 10 years in prison for espionage.
His sister Neda Sharghi and one of his daughters, Hannah Shargi, join me now for an exclusive interview.
Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for being here.
Hannah Shargi, Father Imprisoned in Iran: Thank you for having us.
Neda Sharghi, Brother Imprisoned in Iran: Thank you.
So you heard Siamak Namazi there speaking from inside the same prison where your father is held, your brother is held.
He said it's dire. He is desperate. His voice was breaking as he was speaking.
Neda, what was it like for you to hear that interview?
It was heartbreaking.
I mean, I imagined him being only doors away from Emad and Morad. And I just think it was so courageous of him to do that interview. And, frankly, I just — the risk he took to do it, he shouldn't have to take that risk. He should have been brought home a long time ago. All three should have been brought home.
And the least President Biden can do is at least meet with the families, as he requested.
And did you watch the interview or listen to it?
I didn't watch that interview, because I find it hard knowing that my dad is going through the same situation. I didn't want to be upset before doing this interview.
But all I could say is how much I respect Siamak for doing that and how desperate the three of them are to be home. And I really hope President Biden hears his cries and meets with us and does what he has continuously said he was going to do and bring them home, finally, after all these years.
We know that the Iranians didn't know about the interview. They would have been caught by surprise when this did air.
Are you worried that your dad could face repercussions as a result of this?
I mean, I'm worried every day.
But as Siamak said, this is a necessary measure that he had to take to get the president's attention. I wish it didn't have to come to this point. And I just hope that they're safe and that it pays off, this risk that he took pays off.
Have you heard from Emad since the interview aired?
No, we have not, no.
But we hope to be able to hear from him tomorrow. And, before that, we hope to be able to hear from the White House to have them say that they have listened to Siamak's interview and they want to meet with us right away.
There was this press conference today. The Namazi family held it. The daughter of Morad Tahbaz, another detained American, was there.
Your family was not. Can I ask why not?
Our three families are very close. We have a chat together all the time. And everything we do is really in coordination with one another, and for the benefit of the cause of bringing all three men home. If I had done that press conference, I wouldn't be able to be here today. It's hard to get press.
And so we wanted to make sure that we were able to expand Siamak's message far and wide. So, we're hoping that President Biden hears this, watches this show tonight and responds to Siamak's words and calls our families and meets with us.
You know, when it comes to the efforts to release the detained Americans there, there were reports last month of indirect talks between the Iranians and the Biden administration to arrange some kind of prisoner exchange and secure their release.
Have you heard anything about those talks or any possible deal in the works?
I mean, what I see in the media is what you see in the media. And those reports, to me, are speculation. And I can't waste my time focusing on things that I don't know if they're true or not.
I'm just Emad's sister. I'm not a policymaker. I'm a mother of three. My job is to get my brother home. And what I know will bring him home is one person. And that's President Biden.
And in order to convince him to do that, we have to sit in front of him and have the chance to talk to him. That's what's real. That's what's accurate. Everything else is speculation.
Hannah, the State Department spokesman, Ned Price, was asked about this interview, asked about the case of your father as well, today.
He repeated, it's a priority for the administration to free the Americans, they're committed to it. He said it's a cruel practice for the Iranians to hold them this in this way. And he says: "We're going to do everything we possibly can to bring them home."
What is your sense of the progress to free your dad?
I mean, we have heard for years that this is a top priority to bring my dad and Siamak and Morad home, but how am I supposed to believe that this is actually a priority when the president won't even meet with us, when we can't even have those 15 minutes?
I mean, we live 2.9 miles from the White House. We could be there in 15 minutes any opportunity that he is free. So how am I supposed to believe that my dad is going to be home, when we can't even sit down with the president? That's what I want. I want to talk to my president about my dad. I want to tell him how scared we are and how this is such a time-sensitive matter.
We don't have the luxury of time. My dad was almost killed in the fires in Evin in October. And that could happen tomorrow. It could happen the next day. We need them home now. And we can't continue to wait around and hear that it's a priority. I need to see that it's a priority. And I need my dad on a plane back to Dulles Airport as soon as possible.
April will mark five years…
… he was detained. What have those five years been like?
It's been hard. I mean, it's been terrible living in fear every single day.
The first year he was there,I didn't talk to him once. It's been really difficult for our family. And we are have done everything we can. But, as my aunt said, we are not politicians. And the person that's going to make this decision is the president. And I know he's an empathetic person. He's a father, he's a son, he's a brother.
He is someone that has the ability to bring our dad home, and I want to be able to sit down in front of him and tell him how scared I am and how much I need my dad. I'm 24 years old. My dad has missed five years of my life, and I don't want him to miss more. I don't want him to miss my wedding, my kids being born.
And that's what I think about at night. That's my fear. So, we need this action to happen now.
Neda, you have clearly been asking for this meeting with the president. It sounds like there's no progress on that front just yet.
But you said you want him to know who Emad is. What do you want to say to him about your brother?
My brother is a wonderful, ordinary, normal American citizen who needs to be at home.
He's from Washington, D.C. He lives down the street from the White House. So, I want him to know that Emad is an ordinary citizen, American citizen, like Morad, like Siamak. And I shouldn't be the one that has to remind the president that his priority should be and is supposed to be the safety and security of American citizens like my brother, like Morad, likes Siamak.
Hannah, if you could say something directly to the president now, what would you say?
I would say I need my dad home. Please use every tool you have at your disposal to bring him back, to bring Morad and Siamak back.
I would ask him to put patriotism above politics and let this be his legacy, bringing innocent Americans home, like he did with Brittney Griner, like he did with Trevor Reed. Bring my dad, Emad, home now, please.
Hannah Shargi and Neda Sharghi, the daughter and the sister of detained American citizen Emad Shargi in Iran, thank you so much for being here.
And you can watch Christiane Amanpour's full interview with detained American Siamak Namazi on "Amanpour & Co." tonight at 11:00 p.m. on PBS. Check your local listings.
Watch the Full Episode
Amna Nawaz serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour.
Zeba Warsi is Foreign affairs producer, based in Washington DC. She's a Columbia Journalism School graduate with an M.A. in Political journalism. Prior to the NewsHour, she was based in New Delhi for seven years, covering politics, extremism, sexual violence, social movements and human rights as a special correspondent with CNN's India affiliate CNN-News18.
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