The Washington Post

Iran has taken an­other Amer­i­can hostage. His or­deal strikes close to home.

- JASON REZAIAN Twit­ter: @jreza­ian Crime · Middle East News · Politics · Prison · Iran · Tehran · Washington · Islamic Revolution Guards Corps · United States of America · California · United Arab Emirates · Hassan Rouhani · United Kingdom · Joe Biden · Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution

Ev­ery time Tehran adds to its 40-year habit of ab­duct­ing for­eign na­tion­als as bait for ne­go­ti­a­tions, I am painfully re­minded of my own cap­tiv­ity in Iran. But the or­deal of Emad Shargi, the lat­est Amer­i­can taken hostage by Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties, strikes par­tic­u­larly close to home.

Shargi, a long­time D.C. res­i­dent, was ini­tially de­tained from April to De­cem­ber 2018. After eight months of bru­tal in­ter­ro­ga­tions, while be­ing con­fined to a cell for more than 23 hours each day, he was fi­nally re­leased, and in 2019 he was cleared of wrong­do­ing.

Out of prison for two years, Shargi wasn’t ac­tu­ally free. Forced to stay in Iran be­cause au­thor­i­ties never re­turned his pass­port, he spent most of his time alone at home, wait­ing for clear­ance to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton, where his wife, Ba­hareh Amidi Shargi, had re­united with the cou­ple’s two daugh­ters.

Then, with­out warn­ing, on Nov. 30, Shargi was sum­moned to court and told he had been con­victed of es­pi­onage and sen­tenced to 10 years in prison. After be­ing taken into cus­tody on Dec. 6, he was in­com­mu­ni­cado un­til he called his wife on Feb. 13.

He told her that he was back in Evin Prison’s ward 2A, the most iso­lated sec­tion of the no­to­ri­ous pen­i­ten­tiary, which is un­der the con­trol of the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps. That’s where I was held, iso­lated from the world, for the en­tire 544 days of my de­ten­tion.

When I spoke with Amidi Shargi, she de­scribed scenes nearly iden­ti­cal to the ones my wife and I ex­pe­ri­enced, from an am­bush-style raid on their home in Tehran by masked plain­clothes se­cu­rity agents, which ended with their elec­tronic de­vices and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments con­fis­cated and her hus­band hauled off to Evin, to pe­ri­odic vis­its per­mit­ted while he was in cus­tody in the same cold room with green vinyl­cov­ered chairs where my wife and I would spo­rad­i­cally meet years ear­lier. The sim­i­lar­i­ties don’t end there. Like me, Emad Shargi is a dual U.S. and Ira­nian na­tional, al­though I was born in Cal­i­for­nia and he in Tehran. In 2017, after build­ing a life to­gether in D.C. and then work­ing in the United Arab Emi­rates for nearly a decade, the Shar­gis de­cided they were ready for a new ad­ven­ture when both their daugh­ters left for col­lege. They chose to re­turn to Iran, a coun­try they had both left be­fore ado­les­cence.

At first, it was ev­ery­thing they hoped it would be.

“For both of us, it re­ally felt like we were go­ing back home. The im­age that comes to mind is that of run­ning into the open arms of a mother,” Amidi Shargi told me.

De­spite Iran’s re­pres­sive laws and rep­u­ta­tion for hu­man rights abuses, the Shar­gis’ de­ci­sion to re­turn to their home­land was not un­usual. Fol­low­ing the 2013 elec­tion of Has­san Rouhani as pres­i­dent and the 2015 nu­clear deal, an in­creas­ing num­ber of dual-na­tional Ira­ni­ans have re­turned — and, in fact, they have been en­cour­aged to do so by some Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties, who covet the cap­i­tal and in­ter­na­tional con­nec­tions they bring.

“We were the big­gest ad­vo­cates of Iran to our friends abroad,” Amidi Shargi said. “We con­vinced Euro­pean and Amer­i­can friends to visit, and ev­ery­one won­dered why they hadn’t come sooner. It’s in­ex­pen­sive, the peo­ple are warm and wel­com­ing, and there is so much cul­ture and his­tory there.”

Un­for­tu­nately, in­di­vid­u­als who would like to see an Iran that is more con­nected with the rest of the world have be­come tar­gets of forces within the Is­lamic repub­lic ve­he­mently op­posed to so­ci­ety be­com­ing more open.

“All that trust, all that hope, all those feel­ings about my mother­land were de­stroyed. It was a to­tal vi­o­la­tion,” she told me.

It’s in this con­text that the plights of Shargi and other Amer­i­cans held hostage in Iran — in­clud­ing Bri­tain-born U.S. cit­i­zen Mo­rad Tah­baz, as well as Sia­mak and Ba­quer Na­mazi — must be viewed.

In ev­ery case, hostages are re­lent­lessly in­ter­ro­gated for months with­out le­gal coun­sel and put through sham tri­als. After we are de­nied con­sular ac­cess be­cause Iran re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge its cit­i­zens’ dual na­tion­al­i­ties, our only hope is to be freed by ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment between Iran and the other na­tion in which we hold cit­i­zen­ship. The Ira­nian regime must not be al­lowed to ben­e­fit from cit­i­zens in the di­as­pora re­turn­ing while also us­ing them as bar­gain­ing chips and deny­ing them due process.

The most strik­ing sim­i­lar­ity between Shargi’s cur­rent de­ten­tion and my own is that I, too, was taken at a mo­ment when en­gage­ment between the United States and Iran seemed like it might re­sult in some thaw­ing in re­la­tions.

In re­cent days, the Bi­den ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­naled it would be will­ing to re­turn to talks with Iran over its nu­clear pro­gram. But it also just signed on to a dec­la­ra­tion con­demn­ing ar­bi­trary de­ten­tions to “ob­tain lever­age in state-tostate re­la­tions,” the diplo­matic term for state hostage-tak­ing.

It is time for Iran’s ne­go­tia­tors to make a choice. They can en­gage in com­pre­hen­sive ne­go­ti­a­tions to set­tle is­sues between their long­time ad­ver­sary, the United States, or they can con­tinue jus­ti­fy­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in their govern­ment’s hostage-tak­ing racket. But they can no longer be al­lowed to have it both ways.

 ?? BA­HAREH AMIDI SHARGI ?? Emad Shargi

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