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American held in Iran launches hunger strike and writes to Biden asking him to do more for detainees

Siamak Namazi has launched a hunger strike Monday to mark seven years since he was left behind in a prisoner swap that brought other Americans home.
Courtesy Namazi family
Siamak Namazi has launched a hunger strike Monday to mark seven years since he was left behind in a prisoner swap that brought other Americans home.

By Jennifer Hansler and Kylie Atwood, CNN

    (CNN) -- An American wrongfully detained in Iran is calling on President Joe Biden to take notice of US detainees there, launching a hunger strike Monday to mark seven years since he was left behind in a prisoner swap that brought other Americans home.

In a letter to Biden, Siamak Namazi called on the US president to think of him every day for the seven days he intends to carry out the hunger strike commemorating the grim milestone.

"In the past I implored you to reach for your moral compass and find the resolve to bring the US hostages in Iran home. To no avail. Not only do we remain Iran's prisoners, but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting," wrote Namazi, who is one of three Americans who remain wrongfully detained in Iran. Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz have also been imprisoned there for years.

"All I want sir, is one minute of your days' time for the next seven days devoted to thinking about the tribulations of the U.S. hostages in Iran," Namazi wrote to Biden. "Just a single minute of your time for each year of my life that I lost in Evin prison after the U.S. Government could have saved me but didn't. That is all."

"Alas, given I am in this cage all I have to offer you in return is my additional suffering. Therefore, I will deny myself food for the same seven days, in the hope that by doing so you won't deny me this small request," he said.

Namazi was blocked from leaving Iran after visiting in July 2015 and underwent months of interrogations before being arrested in October 2015. He was not included in the prisoner swap with Iran in January 2016 that led to the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini. A fifth American was also separately released at that time.

"When the Obama Administration unconscionably left me in peril and freed the other American citizens Iran held hostage on January 16, 2016, the U.S. Government promised my family to have me safely home within weeks," Namazi wrote in his letter Monday. "Yet seven years and two presidents later, I remain caged in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, holding that long overdue IOU along with the unenviable title of the longest held Iranian-American hostage in history."

A National Security Council spokesperson said the Biden administration remains "committed to securing the freedom of Siamak Namazi and we are working tirelessly to bring him home along with all US citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran, including Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz."

The spokesperson added that it is "outrageous" for Iran to detain US citizens for political leverage.

"Our priority is bringing all our wrongfully detained citizens home safely and as soon as possible and resolving the cases of missing and abducted US citizens," the spokesperson said.

The US does not have diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime, though it has called on the government there to release the detained Americans. Tensions between Tehran and the West have further ratcheted in the wake of brutal crackdowns against protests in Iran and the executions of protesters. Over the weekend, Western governments condemned the execution of Alireza Akbari, a dual British-Iranian citizen who was hanged after being accused of espionage and corruption.

Namazi's brother, Babak Namazi, told CNN that this week is especially painful for his family every year.

"It's just a horrific week, as to think that seven years, seven whole years have gone by, which could have been avoided if at that time Siamak would have been included with the five other Americans," Babak said.

In February 2016, Namazi's father Baquer was lured to Iran under the false premise that he would be able to see his son. He was instead immediately taken into custody at that time. Siamak and Baquer Namazi were sentenced to 10 years in prison in October 2016. Baquer was released from Iran after more than six years in October 2022. That same month, Siamak was granted furlough from Evin Prison, but was forced to return a short time later.

Babak said his "family is of course gravely concerned for Siamak's health and distraught that he has resorted to such desperate measures" as a hunger strike."

"President Biden, Siamak is begging you, my family is imploring you. Please, please, take what it takes to make those courageous decisions that we know you are capable of," Babak told CNN.

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