U.S. and Iran Reach Agreement on Prisoners

On Aug. 10, 2023, Iran released four Americans to house arrest as part of a reported prisoner deal with the United States. The terms involved Iran's release of five Americans. In return, the United States reportedly agreed to unfreeze some $6 billion of Iranian assets held in South Korean banks and release five Iranians imprisoned in the United States for skirting U.S. sanctions. The deal — mediated by Oman, Qatar, and Switzerland — addressed a key flashpoint in tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Three of the U.S. citizens held in Iran: Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi

“While this is an encouraging step, these U.S. citizens…should have never been detained in the first place,” National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said on August 10. “We will continue to monitor their condition as closely as possible. Of course, we will not rest until they are all back home in the United States.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed to “continue to push back resolutely against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond,” including its support for Russia’s war against Ukraine. “These are entirely separate tracks. We focused on getting our people home, but we continue to take strong action against Iran’s other activities that we and so many other countries profoundly object to,” he said on August 10. 

Reported terms of the deal: 

  • Iran released four detainees—Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz, and an unnamed businessman—from notorious Evin Prison in Tehran to house arrest at a hotel in the capital. One additional detainee, an unnamed female scientist, had already been released into house arrest. 
  • The United States agreed to then unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian assets in South Korea. The funds, which were to be transferred to Qatar, were oil revenues from past purchases. Washington stipulated that the money could only be used to buy humanitarian goods including food and medicine. 
  • Once the Iranian assets were released, Tehran agreed to allow the Iranian-American detainees to return to the United States via Qatar. 
  • Washington reportedly agreed to then release five Iranians imprisoned for violating U.S. sanctions. 

The agreement was an “important development,” said Jared Genser, counsel to Siamak Namazi. “While I hope this will be the first step to their ultimate release, this is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more. But there are simply no guarantees about what happens from here,” he cautioned. Five American detainees were involved in the deal: 

  • Siamak Namazi: In October 2015, the businessman was arrested. In October 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for espionage. 
  • Emad Shargi: In November 2020, the businessman was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for espionage.  
  • Morad Tahbaz: In January 2018, Tahbaz and eight other environmental activists were detained. In November 2019, Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.  
  • An unnamed businessman 
  • An unnamed female scientist 

The deal “puts people first,” according to Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, CEO of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation. “Americans and Iranians alike will benefit from a reduction in tensions.” The United States and Iran “will continue to lock horns, but this deal is an important reminder of what diplomacy can accomplish, especially when negotiators on both sides of the table are thinking about the welfare of their citizens,” he said.    

Washington and Tehran had been working toward a deal for months. On March 12, 2023, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian claimed that the two countries had reached an agreement. But the report was a “cruel lie,” said Ned Price, then the State Department spokesman. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk, a top Middle East advisor for the White House, discussed a deal with Omani officials in May. Omani Sultan Haitham bin Tarik visited the Islamic Republic later that month, reportedly to discuss the release of Americans with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 

Related Material: Profiles: Detainees in Iran 

Tensions had been mounting since 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions on Iran that effectively blocked its assets abroad. The Central Bank of Iran reportedly had an estimated $100 billion in assets frozen in several countries, including South Korea and Japan, historically two of Iran’s major oil customers.  

Related Material: Explainer – Iran's Frozen Assets 

As part of the 2023 deal, the United States agreed to unfreeze $6 billion in oil revenue held in South Korean banks. The United States stipulated that Qatar would hold the assets. A Qatari bank would facilitate Iran's purchases, which were restricted to humanitarian goods – such as food and medicine. 

The deal was “on track,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on August 22. “We believe that things are proceeding according to the understanding that we’ve reached with Iran,” he said. “I don’t have an exact timetable for you because there [are] steps that need to yet unfold.” By early September, some $4 billion had been transferred from South Korea to two Qatari banks, according to Amwaj Media. 

On September 11, the Biden administration notified Congress that it had issued a sanctions waiver for banks in South Korea, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, and Qatar to complete the transfer of the $6 billion to Qatari banks. The move – referred to as a “procedural step” by the White House  – would prevent banks from any threat of U.S. sanctions for converting and transferring the funds. The administration also confirmed that five Iranians imprisoned in the United States would be released under the deal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had approved the sanctions waiver the previous week.

Iran sought the release of four men who had allegedly violated U.S. sanctions as well as one man accused of acting as an Iranian agent, al Monitor reported on September 11. The men included:

  • Mehrdad Moein Ansari: In 2019, the Iranian and resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany was arrested for plotting to secure dual-use materials with potential military and nuclear applications for the Islamic Republic. In September 2021, he was sentenced to more than five years in prison.
  • Kambiz Attar Kashani: In January 2022, the U.S.-Iranian citizen was arrested for conspiring to export goods and technology to the Central Bank of Iran. He had used two front companies based in the United Arab Emirates to procure equipment and software for Iran. In February 2023, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
  • Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani: The Iranian and resident of Canada was arrested for sending laboratory materials to the Islamic Republic. He had shipped the equipment—controlled for nuclear nonproliferation purposes—to Iran through Canada and the United Arab Emirates. He was indicted in July 2021 with 10 crimes, some of which carried maximum prison sentences of 20 years.
  • Amin Hasanzadeh: In November 2019, the Iranian and permanent U.S. resident was arrested on charges of fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. Federal prosecutors accused Hasanzadeh of stealing sensitive technical data from his employer and sending it to his brother, who is connected to the Iranian military. He was indicted in December 2020.
  • Kaveh Afrasiabi: In January 2021, the U.S.-based Iranian was arrested for failing to report his status as a foreign agent in the United States. He had lobbied the State Department and a congressman for “policies favorable to Iran” while on the payroll of Iran’s U.N. mission since around 2007. His alleged crimes carried a maximum of 10 years in prison.

On August 21, three House Republican leaders expressed “deep concern” about potential implications for national security as a result of the deal. “Our citizens deserve answers about why your Administration is rewarding an Iranian regime that is targeting Americans overseas and at home,” House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul (TX), House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (LA), and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (NY) said in a letter to President Joe Biden. The lawmakers also accused the administration of brokering a secret “nuclear understanding” in parallel with the deal on prisoners. They cited a Wall Street Journal report that noted that Iran had slowed the rate of accumulation of highly enriched uranium. “Any such deal or understanding with Iran that does not permanently and completely halt Iran’s nuclear enrichment raises concerns that your Administration is entrenching an Iranian nuclear program that threatens U.S. national security,” they warned. The Republicans also alleged that such an understanding would be a “clear violation” of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015.


History of Hostage-Taking 

Iran’s practice of seizing and imprisoning foreign nationals, including dozens of Americans and dual Iranian-American nationals, has been a recurrent international issue since the 1979 revolution. Hostage-taking became a major tool of Tehran’s diplomacy and shadow warfare against adversaries. 

The Islamic Republic has detained dozens of foreign citizens since the 1979 revolution. The detainees faced charges ranging from espionage to threatening the regime. They held citizenship or had lived in Western countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and Poland. The Iranian government has often targeted U.S.-Iranian nationals. Iran detained at least a dozen Americans in total between 2007 and 2022. Iranian-Americans have sometimes visited Iran using their Iranian passports but were subsequently detained and requested U.S. government assistance with their cases. 

Washington has repeatedly tried to win freedom for detained Americans. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration traded arms for hostages. At least four administrations participated in rounds of behind-the-scenes diplomacy and imposed layers of sanctions. The United States and Iran also exchanged prisoners. But no tactic has sufficed to convince Tehran to abandon hostage-taking, which is widely recognized as a major violation of international law. The following are statements from the United States, the Namazi family lawyer, and Iran followed by profiles of the detainees.


The White House  

Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer in an interview with NPR on Aug. 11, 2023:

Question: What's the timeline? How soon could these Americans actually set foot on U.S. soil?

Finer: “We are encouraged by what happened yesterday. And we are going to do everything possible to make sure that this deal is completed and the Americans return as soon as possible.”

Question: Understood. Are you looking at maybe days, maybe weeks? I mean, what's the ballpark?

Finer: “I'd say more than days, but it is going to be soon.”

Question: And how are they doing? Siamak Namazi, the longest-held U.S. citizen in Iran, has been there since he was detained in 2015. What's their condition?

Finer: “These people have been through quite a lot. As you said, Siamak Namazi has been detained and then imprisoned by the Iranians going back eight years. There are other Americans who have been held since before this administration, the Biden administration took office, and then some who were more recently picked up. All of them have been held in very hard conditions. And not only is this an ordeal for these five Americans, but their families have been through quite a lot as well as they waited for news and hoped for their eventual return, which is what we're trying to bring about.”

Question: So I hear you saying you don't want to get into details until everything is done and dusted and they're home safe. However, it has become clear that this will apparently involve the transfer of some $6 billion that does belong to Iran but which the U.S. had blocked Iran from accessing. The idea now is the money will be moved to an account in Qatar, and it will only be available for use to buy food, to buy medicine, to buy stuff that is not under U.S. sanctions. My question - how can you be sure? What's the plan to monitor this money?

Finer: “So you've characterized this accurately. This is - would be $6 billion that can only be used for humanitarian purposes, as you said.”

Question: But how do you guarantee that's what it will be used for?

Finer: “And the reason we can be confident of that is that the U.S. Treasury Department has oversight over all of the funds in this account, and we'll be able to monitor any transactions that they are used for to make sure that they're used for the proper purposes. And by the way, it's important to note, in light of some of the criticism that's been made, that these are accounts, and this is a process that was actually set up under the previous administration that were used during that administration for Iranian purchases. Now, we have no record of how those funds were used by our predecessors, but we are going to be very carefully monitoring and using very careful oversight, again, through the Treasury Department to make sure it's used the way it's intended.”

Question: Yeah. Let me just push you on this critique, though, because I want to let you address it directly. This is, among many others, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho - this is the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate - who says he welcomes home wrongfully detained Americans, but - and I quote - "unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian assets dangerously further incentivizes hostage taking and provides a windfall for regime aggression."

Finer: “Look. I think that there are some people who want to have it both ways, who want Americans to be welcomed back and reunited with their families and don't want any benefit to accrue to people who perpetrate these atrocious acts of taking hostages and wrongfully detaining people. And we agree that they are atrocious acts. But President Biden has been clear and unapologetic that he sees it in the national interest and in the interest of this administration, not to mention in the clear interest of the individuals and the families involved, that when people find themselves in these situations, even though we have discouraged them from putting themselves in harm's way and at risk, we will do what we can to try to bring them home.”

Question: Before I let you go, I want to pivot to what is perhaps the biggest point of tension with Iran, their nuclear program, their nuclear ambitions. Is your hope that progress on this prisoner issue may crack open the door to progress on that front?

Finer: “Look. We've been quite clear that we believe diplomatic constraints on Iran's nuclear program is the best way to ensure that it does not continue to move forward and that we believe it was a big mistake by our predecessors to relieve Iran of those constraints by pulling out of the nuclear deal. But I want to be very clear. We are doing the current process to try to release the five Americans who are still inside Iran on the merits and on its own, not as some precursor to some other potential arrangement.”

National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson on Aug. 10, 2023: “We have received confirmation that Iran has released from prison five Americans who were unjustly detained and has placed them on house arrest. While this is an encouraging step, these U.S. citizens – Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and two Americans who at this time wish to remain private – should have never been detained in the first place. We will continue to monitor their condition as closely as possible. Of course, we will not rest until they are all back home in the United States. 

“Until that time, negotiations for their eventual release remain ongoing and are delicate. We will, therefore, have little in the way of details to provide about the state of their house arrest or about our efforts to secure their freedom.” 

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Aug. 22, 2023: “We believe that things are proceeding according to the understanding that we’ve reached with Iran.”

“I don’t have an exact timetable for you because there [are] steps that need to yet unfold. But we believe that that remains on track.” 


Secretary of State Antony Blinken

In remarks on Aug. 10, 2023: “With regard to the five Americans who are being wrongfully detained in Iran, first, it’s a positive step that they were released from prison and sent to home detention.  But this is just the beginning of a process that I hope and expect will lead to their return home to the United States.  As you’ve heard me say many times, I have no higher priority than looking out for the security, safety, and well-being of Americans around the world and, in particular, doing everything that we possibly can to bring home those who are being wrongfully detained in a number of countries, including in Iran.

“In this case of the five, their detention in prison in many cases predates this administration, so it’s been going on for a long time.  One has been incarcerated wrongfully in Iran for eight years.  So this is a positive step.  But I don’t want to get ahead of its conclusion because there is more work to be done to actually bring them home.  My belief is that this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare and the nightmare that their families have experienced.  I’m also not going to get into any of the details about what we’re doing or engaged on because I don’t want to jeopardize the completion of this process and the return home of our fellow citizens.

“Let me be clear about a couple of things, though:  In any event, in any respect, Iran will not be receiving any sanctions relief.  And in any instance where we would engage in such efforts to bring Americans home from Iran, Iran’s own funds would be used and transferred to restricted accounts such that the monies can only be used for humanitarian purposes, which, as you know, is permitted under our sanctions.  There’s an exemption for humanitarian that’s there from the start.

“We will continue to enforce all of our sanctions.  We will continue to push back resolutely against Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond, including now in supplying Russia with drones for its war of aggression against Ukraine.  And none of these efforts take away from that.  These are entirely separate tracks.  We focused on getting our people home, but we continue to take strong action against Iran’s other activities that we and so many other countries profoundly object to.

“The State Department has been in contact with the five Americans.  We spoke to them today.  I think they’re, needless to say, very happy to be out of prison, but we want to make sure that we complete this process and bring them home to their families.  I’ve spent a fair bit of time with the families over the last two and a half years.  I know what this has meant to them: the separation from their loved ones, the questions every single day about their well-being, and the unanswered questions about when they’ll come home.  Well, now, we’re on a track to do that, but we need to finish this process.”

Question: “Any Americans still in Iranian prison?”

Blinken: “I’m not aware of anyone beyond the five that we’re talking about.”

Question: “No U.S. permanent residents?”

Blinken: “Again, I’m not – I’m not aware of any beyond the five of – American citizens.”


To reporters on Aug. 15 2023: 

Blinken: “Yesterday I spoke with several of these detainees’ loved ones.  Their resilience, their courage, never ceases to inspire.  My message to them is the same thing that you’ll hear from me today.  Moving our people to house arrest is a positive step, but they are not yet home.  We’re closely monitoring their well-being, we’re especially grateful to our Swiss partners for their on-the-ground support, and we will not rest until our fellow citizens are back in the United States reunited with their families.

“Nothing about our overall approach to Iran has changed.  We continue to pursue a strategy of deterrence, of pressure, and diplomacy.  We remain committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.  We continue to hold the regime accountable for its human rights abuses, destabilizing actions in the region, funding of terrorism, provision of drones to Russia, for its use in the war against Ukraine, among many other offenses.

“We’ve been clear that Iran must de-escalate to create space for future diplomacy.  This development – that is, the move of our detainees out of prison and to home detention – is not linked to any other aspect of our Iran policy.  It is simply about our people.

“You’ve heard me say this before:  I have no higher priority than looking out for the security and well-being of Americans around the world.  Our department will continue to do everything we can to gain the release of those who are unjustly held around the world.”

“With regard to the questions about Iran, I can’t confirm the reports that you’ve cited.  What I can say is, of course, we would welcome any steps that Iran takes to actually de-escalate the growing nuclear threat that it has posed since the United States got out of the Iran nuclear agreement.  And, of course, we’ve been very focused on that, and President Biden’s determination to assure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon remains rock solid.

“There is no agreement between us on nuclear matters.  The agreement that we’re pursuing, to bring home those who are wrongfully detained in Iran, is an entirely separate matter that we want to bring to a successful conclusion, and that’s what I’m focused on.

“I think it’s important to note that, even as we have been pursuing this effort to bring our Americans home, we have continued to pursue very vigorously our efforts to counter a whole variety of actions being taken by Iran that we profoundly object to and so do many other countries around the world.  You see that in the continued implementation of sanctions against Iran.  You see that in the steps that we’ve taken just recently to shore up our military presence in the Gulf to account for the Iranians trying to interfere with shipping.  You see that in a whole variety of areas, where we are pushing back against Iran’s abuses of human rights, its destabilizing actions, its ballistic missiles, its funding of terrorism, the provision of drones to Russia for use in Ukraine.  So there is a long list of things that Iran is engaged in and a long list of actions that we continue to take to oppose what Iran is doing.

“Finally, the five Americans who have been moved from prison to home detention and who we expect to come home in the weeks ahead are Americans who’ve been found to be designated as wrongfully detained.  We continue to look and will always continue to look at the situations, conditions of other Americans around the world who may be detained –”

QUESTION: “With regard to the transfer of funds, which the U.S. has said you’re working out the details, what are – what kind of enforcement mechanisms are we going to see so we know that the Iranian Government is not necessarily abusing those funds?  And then that would somehow be connected to the deal that the U.S. had partially brokered to get their funds released.”

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  “So first, on Iran – and it’s important to be very, very clear about this – the funds in question are not American funds; they’re not American taxpayer money.  They are Iranian funds that have been in South Korean banks for a number of years.  From day one of our sanctions, there has always been an exemption for the use of funds for humanitarian purposes.  The previous administration allowed several countries to continue purchasing oil from Iran and to place those funds in special accounts, and they allowed those accounts to be spent down for – for purposes with actually limited oversight.  And that’s – the funds in the – in South Korea, that’s how they wound up there in the first place.

“The dollars that are being made available – that is, Iranian funds that are being made now available to Iran – this is a way of actually facilitating their use strictly for humanitarian purposes and in a strictly controlled way – again, purposes that have been exempt from day one from our sanctions.  Iran will not have direct access to these funds.  There will be significant oversight and visibility from the United States.”


The State Department

Spokesperson Matt Miller on Aug. 10, 2023: “We are relieved to learn that Iranian authorities have released five U.S. citizens -- Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi, and two individuals who at this time wish to remain private -- from prison to house arrest. We are in touch with the families of U.S. citizens involved, and we continue to monitor these individuals’ health and welfare closely. While we welcome the news of these individuals’ release from prison to house arrest, they should never have been imprisoned in the first place. We continue to work diligently to bring these individuals home to their loved ones.  They must be allowed to depart Iran and reunite with their loved ones as soon as possible.” 

Namazi Family Lawyer Jared Genser 

In a press release on Aug. 10, 2023: “The Namazi family has just received direct visual confirmation that American hostages Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz have been taken from Evin Prison on their way to house arrest.  Earlier today, they learned that the three and the unidentified forth American hostage had been brought together to the Prison Office.  There the four prisoners were officially informed that they were going to be released from Evin Prison and taken to house arrest and they agreed in writing for this transfer to take place. 

“The families of the four American hostages had previously been informed by the Biden Administration yesterday afternoon that it expected and had confirmed that the four would be moved from Evin Prison to a house arrest.  While the fourth American was not directly seen leaving, given their joint presence in the Prison Office, it is believed that this fourth American has been moved with the other three, but this has not been confirmed.  It appears a fifth American, an unnamed woman whose detention was only recently made public, is already under house arrest. 

In response to these developments, Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother commented: 

“’We are grateful that Siamak and the other Americans in Iran are out of Evin Prison and under house arrest.  While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home; we continue to count the days until this can happen.  We have suffered tremendously and indescribably for eight horrific years and wish only to be reunited again as a family.’  

“’The move by Iran of the American hostages from Evin Prison to an expected house arrest is an important development,’ said Jared Genser, pro bono counsel to Siamak Namazi.  ‘While I hope this will be the first step to their ultimate release, this is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more.  But there are simply no guarantees about what happens from here,’ he added. 

“It is anticipated that the four prisoners will be held at a hotel under guard by Iranian officials under house arrest.  Their conditions are expected to be no worse than what they had while detained at Evin Prison.  This should mean, for example that they will be able to spend time with each other and also make calls to family.” 


Iranian Foreign Ministry

In a statement on Aug. 11, 2023: “The process of releasing billions of dollars from the assets of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which were illegally seized in South Korea by the United States for several years, has begun. Iran has received the necessary assurances regarding America’s commitment to its obligations in this matter.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has long prioritized the lifting of restrictions on the financial resources of the Islamic Republic of Iran that have been unlawfully blocked or made difficult to access by foreign banks due to concerns over the cruel sanctions imposed by the United States.

“The decision on how to utilize these unfrozen resources and financial assets lies with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The competent authorities will allocate these resources to address the various needs of the country.

“In addition to the unfreezing of the financial resources that were illegally seized, safeguarding the rights of Iranians worldwide is a fundamental duty of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As part of this commitment, the diplomatic apparatus has pursued the release of several innocent Iranian prisoners who have been unlawfully detained in the United States for years under false accusations of circumventing American sanctions. The release of these prisoners will be realized in the near future.

“It is important to note that prisoners sought by the United States still remain in Iran.”


American Detainees

Siamak Namazi

Siamak Namazi
Siamak Namazi

Dubai-based businessman Siamak Namazi was arrested in mid-October 2015. On July 11, 2016, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that Namazi had been indicted but did not specify the charges. On October 18, 2016, after being tried without access to a lawyer, Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for collaborating with a foreign government.

Namazi is the son of a former governor of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in western Iran, according to The Washington Post. His family came to the United States in 1983 when he was a boy. He became a U.S. citizen in 1993. After graduating from college, Namazi returned to Iran for military service, which is compulsory there. From 1994 to 1996, he worked as a duty officer with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning in Tehran.

In 1998, Namazi founded Future Alliance International, a Washington D.C.-based consulting company focused on the risk of doing business in Iran. He came to see Iranian-Americans as a potential asset to his home country. “The new generation must be made to feel that no matter how much time elapses they will be welcomed and treated with respect in the land of their parents,” he wrote in 1998 for The Iranian. He suggested that Iran’s recognition of dual citizenship would be a good first step. “Iranian-Americans are a formidable force in helping mend the bridge between Iran and the United States,” he stated in a 1999 co-authored paper.

Namazi later worked as Managing Director at a family consulting firm founded in Tehran that later moved to Dubai, the Atieh Group. In 2005, he was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He also did a stint at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2006. He then worked for a few different energy consulting groups in Dubai. In 2013, Namazi warned that sanctions unintentionally created shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran. He was General Manager of Access Consulting Group, a Dubai-based consultancy focused on energy, before moving on to his most recent position at Crescent Petroleum. Namazi holds degrees from the London Business School and from Rutgers and Tufts Universities.

On July 11, 2016, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that Namazi had been indicted but did not specify the charges. On October 17, the Mizan news agency, the judiciary news service, posted a video that appeared to show Namazi in the hours immediately following his arrest. The short clip was an anti-American montage that showed images of a captured American surveillance drone, Jason Rezaian (a dual-national journalist who was accused of spying for the United States), U.S. sailors kneeling before being detained by Iranian forces and more. 

On October 18, 2016, after being tried without access to a lawyer, Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for collaborating with a foreign government. Five other defendants were also convicted and given similar sentences, including Siamak Namazi’s father Baquer. Namazi and his father are being held in Evin Prison by the IRGC.

Siamak Namazi’s brother Babak spoke out against the sentences, calling them unjust. “My father has been handed practically a death sentence,” Babak wrote. “Siamak’s only crime has been to speak out against the negative effects of sanctions.” Babak was referring to an Op-Ed essay Namazi wrote for The New York Times in 2013.

In April 2017, Namazi’s lawyer, Jared Genser, called on President Trump to secure the release of Namazi and his father. “If not resolved quickly, the Namazi cases could have an outsized impact on the trajectory of Iran-US relations because both men are in rapidly declining health,” Genser stated. “In our view, something happening to the Namazis would be devastating not just to one side, but to both sides.” “For either or both of the Namazi to die on President Trump’s watch would be a public and catastrophic failure of his negotiating skills.”

Siamak Namazi’s health has declined since his arrest following prolonged periods of interrogation and a hunger strike in 2016. In August 2017, a Tehran appeals court upheld the convictions of both Siamak and his father, Baquer. “The Namazis are innocent of the charges on which they were convicted and they are prisoners of conscience, detained in Iran because they are American citizens,” international counsel to the family, Jared Genser, said in a statement.

In September 2017, a U.N. panel of international legal experts reportedly concluded that the imprisonment of the Namazis was illegal and that they should be freed.

On August 26, 2018 the Tehran Appeals Court denied the appeals of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, upholding their convictions of collaborating with the U.S. government. The Namazis U.S.-based lawyer Jared Genser condemned the move as a “cruel and unjust decision” of the court. 

On February 7, 2020, the Ghanoon Telegram messaging app channel published a letter that Namazi had written from Evin Prison. In the letter, Namazi asked Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi why he had not been granted furlough while other prisoners were allowed to go on temporary leave. “For the past four years, while enduring punishment for a crime I did not commit, I have been trying to restore my rights with the help of almighty God within the laws of our beloved country,” Namazi wrote. “Four years and four months have passed without a break… Meanwhile I have witnessed the brother of a senior state official being given furlough just hours after being put into prison.”

On March 2, 2020, the Namazi family’s lawyer, Jared Gensler, reported that his client was at “serious risk” of contracting the virus. “To keep Siamak at Evin prison in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak and without access to testing or even basic medicines constitutes cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in violation of Iran’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture,” said Genser. On March 3, Iran’s judiciary announced that it would grant furloughs to 54,000 healthy prisoners to help stem the spread of the virus. It was unclear whether Namazi would also be granted furlough.    

On October 1, 2022, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced that Namazi had been “released from detention.” His lawyer clarified that he had been released on a one-week furlough. The United States welcomed the move and thanked Guterres, Switzerland, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and the Britain for working to help the Namazi family. “Our efforts are far from over,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. “We remain committed and determined to securing the freedom of all Americans unjustly detained in Iran and elsewhere.” Namazi's furlough was extended on October 8, but he was forced to return to prison four days later.

On January 16, 2023, Namazi went on a hunger strike. In an open letter, he urged President Biden to do more to free him and the other Americans held in Iran. “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,” he wrote. “Not only do we remain Iran’s prisoners, but you have not so much as granted our families a meeting.”

On August 10, 2023, Namazi was released from Evin Prison into house arrest at a hotel in Tehran as part of a deal between the United States and Iran. The agreement reportedly secured the eventual release of Namazi as well as four other Iranian-American detainees. In return, Washington would unfreeze some $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea and release several Iranians imprisoned for skirting U.S. sanctions. 


Emad Shargi

Emad Shargi
Emad Shargi (photo courtesy of Shargi family)

Emad Shargi, a dual American-Iranian citizen, was first arrested in April 2018 and held in section 2A of Evin prison for eight months. For his first 44 days in prison, he was held incommunicado, with no contact or access to the outside world, including family and legal counsel. While detained, he was repeatedly interrogated and also held in solitary confinement, according to Shargi’s family. He was questioned about his business dealings and travels.

Shargi was released on bail in December 2018. Approximately one year later, in December 2019, he was issued an official document from the Revolutionary Court declaring his innocence and clearing him of all spying and national security charges. But his passport was withheld, and he was not permitted to leave Iran.  

On November 30, 2020, Shargi was summoned to court and convicted of espionage without a trial. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a family friend told NBC News. His lawyer filed an appeal. On January 14, 2021, the Young Journalists Club, a news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards, reported that Shargi had been arrested near the western border. As of April 2021, he was being held in section 2A of Evin prison and has not been allowed visitors or access to legal counsel since his arrest, according to his family. 

“Nobody has been able to see him in nearly five months,” Shargi’s two daughters, Ariana and Hannah, wrote in The Washington Post in April 2021. “He is trapped in terrible conditions during a deadly pandemic and is being refused a vaccine. We have no way of knowing how he is, except for a couple of short, monitored phone calls.” 

Shargi and his wife, Amidi Shargi, were born in Iran but left as children. Emad Shargi completed his higher education in the United States. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University. He previously worked in the plastics industry supplying plastics for water bottles and later at a company in Abu Dhabi leasing and selling private airplanes. He and his wife went to Iran in 2017, after their youngest child left home for college. At the time of his arrest in April 2018, he had just started working for the Dutch division of Sarava Holding, a tech investment company. 

On August 10, 2023, Shargi was released from Evin Prison into house arrest at a hotel in Tehran as part of a deal between the United States and Iran. The agreement reportedly secured the eventual release of Shargi as well as four other Iranian-American detainees. In return, Washington would unfreeze some $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea and release several Iranians imprisoned for skirting U.S. sanctions. 


Morad Tahbaz

Morad Tahbaz
Morad Tahbaz

On January 24, 2018, the Revolutionary Guards intelligence organization detained Morad Tahbaz, a dual American-Iranian citizen, and eight other environmental activists accused of espionage. Their trial began on in January 2019 but was delayed until the beginning of August. On November 20, 2019, an Iranian court sentenced Tahbaz to 10 years in prison. 

The activists were members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation conducting research on Iran’s endangered cheetah population. On October 24, 2018, the judiciary charged Tahbaz with “seeking proximity to military sites with the cover of environmental projects and obtaining military information from them.” One of the four charges against him included “sowing corruption on earth,” which typically carries the death penalty. But on October 14, 2019, Judiciary Spokesman Gholam-Hossein Esmail said the capital charge had been dropped. The activists still faced charges of “assembly and collusion against national security” and “contacts with U.S. enemy government … for the purpose of spying,” according to the judiciary.

Tahbaz reportedly has cancer and his health has continued to deteriorate because he has not received medication and treatment for more than a year.

In March 2022, Tahbaz was released on furlough when two other British-Iranians, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, were released and allowed to leave Iran. Tahbaz, however, was returned to prison later in the month. On July 26, 2022, Iran released Tahbaz on bail with an electronic bracelet, according to his lawyer. Tahbaz was allowed to stay in Tehran with his in-laws and wife, Vida Tahbaz. Vida was barred from leaving Iran. “It's amazing news, but they're still not home,” their daughter Tara told Al-Monitor. “There's still a long way to go to get to that happy ending." In a tweet, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, thanked Oman for “its help in achieving the furlough” of Tahbaz. “It is high time that he and the three other unjustly detained US citizens return home,” he added.  

On August 10, 2023, Tahbaz was released from Evin Prison into house arrest at a hotel in Tehran as part of a deal between the United States and Iran. The agreement reportedly secured the eventual release of Tahbaz as well as four other Iranian-American detainees. In return, Washington would unfreeze some $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea and release several Iranians imprisoned for skirting U.S. sanctions. 


Unnamed U.S.-Iranian Businessman

In late 2022, a male U.S.-Iranian citizen was reportedly detained in Iran. The Biden Administration sought his release along with three other detained Americans, Semafor reported in July 2023. On August 10, 2023, the businessman was released from Evin Prison into house arrest at a hotel in Tehran as part of a deal between the United States and Iran. The agreement reportedly secured his eventual release as well as four other Iranian-American detainees. In return, Washington would unfreeze some $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea and release several Iranians imprisoned for skirting U.S. sanctions. 


Unnamed U.S.-Iranian Scientist

On August 10, 2023, an unnamed female scientist was reportedly part of a deal between the United States and Iran to free five Americans detained in the Islamic Republic. As a first step, Tehran released four Iranian-Americans from Evin Prison into house arrest at a hotel in Tehran. The agreement reportedly secured the eventual release of the scientist as well as the four other detainees. In return, Washington would unfreeze some $6 billion in Iranian assets held in South Korea and release several Iranians imprisoned for skirting U.S. sanctions. 



Some of the information in this article was originally published on August 10, 2023.