Washington urges Iran to free father and son jailed on spying charges




The United States on Tuesday demanded the release of an Iranian-American businessman and his 80-year-old father who were handed tough sentences in Tehran on espionage charges.

Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his father, Baquer Namazi, were sentenced to 10 years in prison, a state-run judicial news agency reported earlier in the day, drawing swift condemnation from the US State Department.

The Mizan news agency reported that the two men were convicted of “cooperating with the hostile American government”, but did not provide further details.

The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” by the report.

“We join recent calls by international organizations and UN human rights experts for the immediate release of all US citizens unjustly detained in Iran, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi, so that they can return to their families,” spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Namazi senior is a former UNICEF representative who once served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the US-backed shah.

UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, expressed “deep sadness and personal concern” over the sentence of Baquer Namazi.

“Baquer has been a humanitarian all his life. We appeal for his release on humanitarian grounds,” UNICEF said.

“My father has been handed practically a death sentence and it will be a criminal act by me, his only able son, not to fight for my father’s life and freedom as well as that (of) my brother,” wrote another son, Babak Namazi.

Efforts to ‘infiltrate Iran’

The Namazi family fled after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but appears to have kept business ties in Iran, and the younger Namazi traveled back several times.

He also wrote several articles calling for improved ties between Iran and the US, and urging Iranian-Americans to act as a bridge between the rival governments.

Still, Siamak Namazi’s efforts raised suspicions among hard-line Iranian politicians. In May 2015, an Iranian website called Fardanews specifically pointed to him in a highly critical article, accusing him of being part of efforts to allow the West to infiltrate Iran.

The Namazis were not released as part of a January deal that freed detained Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans in exchange for pardons or charges being dropped against seven Iranians.

That deal also saw the US make a $400 million cash delivery to Iran.

Analysts and family members of those detained in Iran have suggested Iran wants to negotiate another deal with the West to free those held. In September, Iran freed a retired Canadian-Iranian university professor amid negotiations to reopen embassies in the two nations.