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'Bring us home': American held in Iran ends weeklong hunger strike

“Don't let President Biden leave us in this abyss of misery,” Siamak Namazi said in a letter penned from prison.

WASHINGTON — Siamak Namazi, a US citizen detained in Iran since 2015, ended his weeklong hunger strike on Monday with an urgent plea to the Biden administration to do what is necessary to secure his freedom. 

Namazi, currently the longest-held American prisoner in Iran, launched his seven-day strike to mark “each of the seven years of freedom” he has lost behind bars, describing his hunger protest as "a prisoner's weapon of last resort." 

Following his October 2015 arrest, Namazi was the only American not returned home from Iran as part of a January 2016 prisoner swap negotiated under the Obama administration, nor was he included in either of the Trump administration-brokered deals to release two American detainees. 

The Biden administration says it is “working tirelessly” to free Namazi and Iranian-Americans Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship. All three detainees, as well as US permanent resident Shahab Dalili, are held on espionage charges that their families dismiss as baseless.   

“Don't let President Biden leave us in this abyss of misery,” Namazi said in a letter he penned from prison. 

“I went on [a] hunger strike because I've learned the hard way that US presidents tend to rely more on their political thermometer than their moral compass when deciding whether or not to enter a prisoner deal with Iran — or indeed who to include in one,” Namazi said in the letter, which was made public by his lawyer.

“It is time to match claims that freeing us is a US government priority with the tough decisions needed to bring us home,” he said. 

Namazi’s weeklong strike took a serious toll on his physical health. According to his lawyer, Namazi lost some 10 pounds, his blood pressure spiked above normal levels and he struggled to keep warm. 

His protest comes nearly two years after the Biden administration began indirect talks with Tehran over a possible prisoner exchange. Asked last week if those talks were ongoing, a State Department spokesperson told Al-Monitor, “We have ways of communicating with Iran on issues of concern, such as on the issue of releasing American citizens wrongfully detained in Iran. Those channels remain open, but we’re not going to detail them.”

The Iranians claim they are ready to exchange the prisoners, reportedly in exchange for the release of billions of dollars of Iranian assets that are frozen abroad under US sanctions. A spokesperson for the Iranian Mission to the United Nations said a prisoner deal is “very close” but requires “political will” from the Biden administration.

The population at Tehran’s sprawling Evin Prison, where Namazi and the other Americans are held, has swelled since the anti-government demonstrations erupted in September over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman detained by the so-called morality police for allegedly violating the country’s strict hijab rules.

Iran is believed to have arrested thousands of peaceful protesters. According to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights, at least 109 of them are at risk of execution or face death penalty charges. 

Namazi ended his hunger strike the same day the US Treasury Department announced new human rights sanctions on several Iranian officials connected to the regime’s violent crackdown on the monthslong protests.  

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