When Baquer Namazi, the oldest American citizen known to be held in an Iranian prison, was released on short-term medical leave Jan. 28 from Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, it was an unexpected and unusual act of mercy. There was even some hope that Mr. Namazi, an 81-year-old former diplomat for Unicef, might be granted parole. On Tuesday, those hopes were dashed as the authorities ordered the ailing Mr. Namazi to return to jail, a decision so lacking in compassion that the Trump administration must intervene.
“The powers that be have directed me to return to prison today despite the strong recommendation of Iran’s medical examiner and my physicians that my health cannot withstand further incarceration,” Mr. Namazi said in a note released by his American lawyer, Jared Genser.
Mr. Namazi was rushed to the hospital on Jan. 15 after suffering a severe drop in blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat. It was the fourth time he’d been hospitalized in the past year, including for emergency heart surgery in September to install a pacemaker. His doctors recommended a further three-month medical leave. Mr. Namazi’s family members are understandably concerned that returning to prison will jeopardize his life even more. “How can the Iranian authorities knowingly risk my father’s life, knowing it will end in a tragedy?” said Babak Namazi, one of Baquer’s sons.
Another son, Siamak, 46, a businessman and dual citizen who had been an advocate for improved American-Iranian relations, remains imprisoned as well. Babak said his brother had been abused while in prison, including through electric shock. In a secretive October 2016 trial, the two men were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power — the United States. Their convictions and 10-year sentences were upheld last November on appeal. The details of the charges against them have never been fully explained.
At least two other American citizens are known to be imprisoned in Iran: Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student who was seized while working on his doctoral thesis, and Karan Vafadari, a Tehran art gallery owner. Another American, Robert Levinson, has been missing in Iran for more than 10 years. Other foreign citizens have also been detained, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a Briton of Iranian descent employed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who was sentenced to five years.
These detentions have worsened tensions between Iran and the West following the 2015 deal under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for a lifting of economic sanctions. The result is that some Westerners, especially those with dual Iranian citizenship, are now more cautious about visiting Iran, fearing arbitrary arrest. Iranian officials say that the United States or its allies have unfairly imprisoned or prosecuted at least 14 Iranians, mostly for what the officials call unfounded charges of sanctions violations.
Granting Mr. Namazi a short-term medical leave and then extending it seemed like one possible way to break the logjam. The Trump administration has reportedly asked Iran to set up a private channel to discuss such humanitarian issues, but there has been no response from Tehran. The speculation is that the hard-liners who control Iran’s judiciary and intelligence services are refusing to budge.