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Who Are the American Prisoners in Iran? Detainees Facing Uncertain Future After Trump Nuclear Deal Withdrawal

Even as President Donald Trump secured the release of three American hostages from North Korea by entering into negotiations with Kim Jong Un's rogue regime, at least five U.S. citizens being held in Iran are seeing their hopes of release dashed.

After Trump announced Tuesday he was pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, leaders of both countries almost immediately began hurling insults. Iran’s speaker of parliament said Trump doesn’t have the mental capability to understand dealmaking, and members of Trump’s White House slammed Iran’s military action in the Middle East.

Several experts and human rights advocates were quick to point out that the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Tehran will make it much harder to free U.S. detainees imprisoned in Iran.  

“Of course, it’s always hard to predict, but in 2015 when the nuclear deal was struck there was a prisoner swap deal, a prisoner exchange,” Jasmin Ramsey, a representative of New York City–based Center for Human Rights in Iran, told Newsweek. “Now, the chance of that happening is zero. Any communication will be extremely strained or maybe even cut off again, as it was prior. So any limited means the U.S. had to negotiate while the deal was there, that’s out the window.

“The international community should make sure it doesn't feed Iran's bad habit of taking dual and foreign nationals as political pawns. These people were sentenced without due process, and the number one onus is on Iran to allow them to have fair and free trials, with lawyers of their choice and the ability to put forth a full defense,” Ramsey continued. “Iran heavily restricts the due process rights of these dual nationals, and Iran doesn’t recognize dual citizenship. I can’t imagine what those prisoners are feeling as this relationship deteriorates.”  

At least five U.S. citizens are being held in Iran, but experts said there could be more because many families choose not to go public.  

A father and son, Baquer and Siamak Namazi, are two of them. Siamak, a dual U.S.-Iranian national, was working as the head of an oil and gas company when he was arrested in 2015. His father, Baquer, also a dual citizen, was arrested a year later when he traveled to Iran to try to secure his son’s release. He has undergone heart surgery while in captivity.

Karan Vafadari, another dual U.S.-Iranian citizen, was arrested along with his Iranian wife for allegedly serving alcohol in their home and hosting parties with members of both sexes.

Other American captives are Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-U.S. citizen who was doing research for his Princeton doctoral degree when he was arrested in 2017, and Morad Tahbaz, an environmentalist detained on espionage charges.

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