Five Americans unlawfully detained in Iran have arrived home. Emad Shargi, Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, and two others who wished to remain anonymous set foot on U.S. soil September 19. Their release was made possible by exchanging five convicted Iranians held in the United States and providing the Iranian government with access to $6 billion of frozen Iranian funds to be used for humanitarian purposes only.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken thanked U.S. partners who helped in the prisoners’ release -- Oman, Switzerland, Qatar, and the United Kingdom.
“It means that husbands and wives, fathers and children, grandparents can hug each other again, can see each other again, can be with each other again.”
But Secretary Blinken noted that as “happy as we are at the freedom of our fellow citizens, we are also thinking of Bob Levinson, who is not among them and who is presumed deceased.” A former FBI agent, Levinson was abducted in Iran in 2007. The Iranian government refused to give an account of what happened to him.
“Bob’s legacy, however, lives on,” said Secretary Blinken.
“It lives on powerfully in the Levinson Act, which has given us new and important tools to help crack down on and deter the practice of taking Americans unlawfully, to try to turn them into political pawns, and to abuse the international system in that way.”
Toward that end, on September 18, the United States announced sanctions against former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for having provided support to Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the MOIS. The MOIS was also designated for its involvement in the hostage-taking or wrongful detention of US citizens, including Mr. Levinson.
“Today’s action targets Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for enabling the wrongful detention of our citizens, causing immeasurable pain and suffering for both the victims and their families,” wrote Brian Nelson, U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
The State Department is also imposing visa restrictions on three Iranian government officials who have been involved in hostage-taking or unjust detention of U.S. and foreign nationals, as well as on two Iranian prison officials.
The United States, said Secretary Blinken, will “keep working every single day to take steps to make this practice [of hostage-taking] more and more difficult and more and more of a burden on those countries that engage in it.”