• January 28, 2023

3 Years Later, A Prisoner’s Family Still Awaits His Return From Iran : NPR

Bahareh and Emad Shargi in California in June 2017. Bahareh Shargi hide caption

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Bahareh Shargi

Bahareh and Emad Shargi in California in June 2017.

Bahareh Shargi

Bahareh Shargi is celebrating an anniversary later this month: it will be three years before her husband is trapped in Iran.

The Iranian authorities arrested the US citizen Emad Shargi on April 23, 2018. Although they eventually released him on bail, they did not allow him to leave the country and later took him back to Evin Prison in Tehran. Now his family hopes that speaking out can help him.

His wife discussed his case in Washington, DC, where they raised two daughters. She sat on her concrete porch overlooking a playground from when her children were little. “I’m so proud to have spent the last 32 years with him,” she said. She calls these last three years separately “this ordeal”.

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Emad, Shargi, 56, is one of numerous US citizens arrested in Iran over the years on opaque espionage charges. He said he was innocent and Iran had not released any evidence.

Iranian diplomats often have talked about exchanging such prisoners for Iranians in US prisons. While the United States officially opposes such exchanges, some U.S. and Iranian prisoners were released during the Trump administration. But not Emad Shargi.

Bahareh Shargi, 53, said she and her husband were born in Iran and both moved to the United States at a young age and became citizens. But they had family ties with their homeland, and when their children went to college a few years ago, they decided to take the opportunity to live in Tehran.

Emad Shargi in 2015 Bahareh Shargi caption hide

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Bahareh Shargi

Emad Shargi in 2015

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“We had this window of time where we thought, ‘We can travel,'” she said.

They lived in a house in Tehran that belonged to Bahareh Shargi’s family. Emad Shargi, a businessman, had previously worked in the Persian Gulf region and briefly worked for the Dutch arm of an Iranian venture capital company.

His wife insists that they had no sign of problems with the Iranian authorities until she woke up after midnight on April 23, 2018 and found “15, 16, 17 men and one woman, strangers in our home”. They took the couple’s passports and many other documents and left with Emad.

She followed him to Evin Prison, an imposing mine in northern Tehran. It occupies an oversized place in the Iranian psyche and is the target for many who have fallen out of favor with the Iranian security services. She went through the gates every day to meet a senior official, but only got through to a secretary who told her to go home. She says she was told, “We’ll call you. Your husband will be here for a long time.”

Emad Shargi was released from prison in December 2018, but his passport was not returned so he could no longer travel. His wife reluctantly returned to the United States, hoping he could follow. After almost two years of waiting, he was arrested again in November 2020.

Bahareh Shargi became concerned the month when she couldn’t videoconference with him as she usually did. Eventually she learned from the BBC’s Persian News Service that he was back in prison. “I opened my phone,” she said, and saw “three pictures of a man who looked like Emad but was 20 or 30 years old since I last saw him on FaceTime.”

The Shargi family in 2015. Bahareh Shargi hide caption

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The Shargi family in 2015.

Bahareh Shargi

In February, Emad was allowed to call from Evin. He said he was convicted in a trial he did not attend and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Bahareh Shargi and her daughters Hannah (22) and Ariana (24) gather on the phone when he calls.

“What I’ve been trying to do lately is to let him know that we are doing other things and higher people are doing other things, and ‘You will not forget,'” said Bahareh Shargi.

On a recent phone call, she told her husband that US and Iranian diplomats would be in Vienna this week, relaying messages back and forth. It is an effort to find a way for the US to rejoin a nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers.

The last time US diplomats negotiated Iran’s nuclear program during the Obama administration, they worked to separate talks from discussions about imprisoned Americans. They wanted to avoid being asked to pay some kind of nuclear ransom for prisoners. These The most recent nuclear talks are preliminary – US and Iranian officials are not even sitting in the same room – but Rob Malley, the US envoy to Iran, said President Biden was “deeply concerned” about “getting American citizens out as soon as possible and with loved ones to reunite “.

“They are not part of these negotiations, but they are actually part of our thinking,” Malley told NPR in an interview Monday. “And we are determined to release them regardless of what happens on the nuclear route.”

Iranian Nuclear Deal Revival: Here's What It's About And Why It's Difficult

The families of Americans held in Iran have urged the Biden government to make their release a priority.

“Looking back,” said Bahareh Shargi, “it was a big mistake to go there.”

She pointed to the back yard of her home in Washington. “His best times were under that cherry blossom tree, which when you come back in 20 days will be in full bloom [and] pink. “She has no way of knowing when her husband might return to see her backyard cherry trees.

She remembered when her daughters were little and “showered themselves with cherry blossoms” when the petals fell. “And the reason I say this is because I want to tell these people [that] You have the wrong person. Why do you have emad? “

Lisa Weiner and Denise Couture produced and edited the audio story.

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