Who are the American prisoners that were detained in Iran and are now free?

Here is everything you need to know about the American citizens who were detained in Iran

Faiza Saqib
Monday 18 September 2023 19:25 BST
Iran Prisoner Exchange: five American prisoners

Five Americans who were imprisoned in Iran have now been freed, officials said.

On Monday, the prisoners were flown back as part of a deal that saw the United States unfreeze nearly $6bn in Iranian assets.

All five individuals were flown on a Qatar Airways flight which took off from Tehran’s Mehrabad International Airport.

In addition to the five freed Americans, two relatives of the detainees were also on board.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani was the first to acknowledge the swap would take place Monday, confirming the cash sought for the exchange that had been held by South Korea was in Qatar.

“Fortunately Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation,” Kanaani said.

“On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the US,” he added.

“Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the US side.”

Three of the individuals a part of the deal had been imprisoned for more than five years. The identities of two others are not yet publicly known.

So, who are the US citizens who were detained in Iran for many years?

Emad Shargi

Emad Shargi, an Iranian American businessman was arrested on 23 April 2018.

Although Mr Shargi,56, was born in Iran, he left at a young age but decided to move back to the country with his wife Bahareh Amidi Shargi in 2017 after their daughters left for college.

According to United Against Nuclear Iran, Mr Shargi worked in Iran in a senior role at Sarva, an Iran-based venture capital and holding company that made investments in Iran’s technology sector.

During the time of his arrest, Mr Shargi was met with a dozen agents who entered his home and arrested him.

It remains unclear if his wife was also arrested.

The regime also took all of Mr Shargi’s electronic devices and passports – which prevented him from leaving the country.

Mr Shargi was released from prison in December 2018 and cleared of all charges in 2019. But the regime held onto his passport and according to United Against Nuclear Iran a news story wrongly reported that Mr Shargi was arrested again. In 2020, Tehran’s Revolutionary Court summoned him for three hearings.

That same year Mr Shargi was arrested again and sentenced to 10 years in prison after learning he had been convicted in absentia on espionage charges.

Ariana and Hannah, Mr Shargi’s daughters wrote in a 2021 Washington Post article that their father enjoyed listening to classical music on the radio and likes to make jokes.

The daughters said he attended every one of their soccer games and musicals, bringing them flowers. He would also read all of their college essays and made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every morning when they were younger, according to CBS News.

"My family has faith in the work that President Biden and government officials have undertaken to bring our families home and hope to receive that news soon," Mr Shargi’s sister said in a statement at the time.

Siamak Namazi

Siamak (Right) and Baquer Namazi

Siamak Namazi, 51, is a businessman with dual US-Iranian citizenship. He is known to be the longest-held hostage in Iran and resided in Dubai before he was taken captive.

Mr Namazi’s family came to the US in 1983 when he was just a boy. In 1993, he became an official US citizen.

After graduating from university, Mr Namazi returned to the US for compulsory military service and from 1994 to 1996, he worked as a duty officer with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning in Tehran.

He founded Future Alliance International, a Washington DC–based consulting company focused on the risks of doing business in Iran in 1998 and later worked as a managing director at his family’s consulting firm. The company sought to assist Iranian businesses with developing ties with firms from abroad who were seeking to operate in Iran.

Before his arrest, Mr Namazi was the head of the strategic planning division for Crescent Petroleum, an oil and gas company based in the United Arab Emirates.

In 2015, the businessman was detained by the Revolutionary Guards while he was visiting his family in Tehran. IRGC agents claimed he was committing espionage for Western governments.

Months later his ailing father, Baquer, was detained after returning to Iran to visit his jailed son. They were both sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison for allegedly spying and cooperating with the US government.

A former Iranian provincial governor and former UNICEF official who also has dual citizenship, Baquer Namazi was put under house arrest in 2018 on medical grounds and left Iran in 2022 for medical treatment.

In an op-ed in the New York Times in June 2022, Mr Namazi confirmed that authorities put him in solitary confinement for the first 27 months of his prison sentence.

“Often kept in a bare, closet-size room, I slept on the floor and received food from under the door – like a dog. I endured unutterable indignities,” he said.

Morad Tahbaz

Morad Tahbaz,67, is an Iranian American who also holds British citizenship.

He was arrested in 2018 with eight environmentalists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which Tahbaz co-founded. The organisation regularly gave to international conservation groups.

In 2019, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison on vague charges of spying for the US and undermining Iran’s security.

The group was using camera traps to monitor endangered species, including the Persian leopard and Asiatic cheetah, United Against Nuclear Iran reported.

Mr Tahbaz has three children, a history of cancer and has been in ill health while incarcerated.

His wife went to Iran after Mr Tahbaz’s arrest and was prohibited from leaving the country for many years but now he reportedly has his wife alongside him on the flight leaving Iran.

In a statement posted on X/Twitter on 18 September, Mr Tahbaz’s family said they were “overjoyed” and “relieved to have Morad and Vida free.”

The family also thanked President Joe Biden and the administration for “making the difficult decision to prioritise the lives of American citizens over politics.”

“Thank you for leading with courage and compassion,” it said.

The statement continued: “There are countless family, friends, and strangers who have been by our family's side since the first day of this nightmare. Thank you for standing firm in your support until we could reach this surreal but happy day.

“To the families of other Americans wrongfully detained abroad, we stand with you to continue fighting for the release of your loved ones. At this time we are focused on the reunion of our family, the physical and mental health of Morad and Vida, and the path to recovery of these lost years.”

The two other detainees have not yet been identified.

Additonal reporting from agencies.

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