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Iran Sentences Two American Citizens To 10 Years In Prison


An Iranian-American businessman and his father were sentenced today in Iran to 10 years in prison. Their family expressed utter shock at the news, and the U.S. is calling for their release. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, these two men appear to be the victims of both an internal Iranian power struggle and also continued tensions with the U.S.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: An Iranian court convicted U.S. citizens Siamak and Baquer Namazi of cooperating with the U.S. government against Iran. A family statement called the news unjust and said for 80-year-old Baquer Namazi, a former UNICEF official, the 10-year prison term is tantamount to a life sentence. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric is expressing concern on behalf of the U.N. Children's Fund.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC: Mr. Namazi served at UNICEF as representative for Somalia, Kenya and Egypt, among other positions. He worked tirelessly on behalf of children in all those positions, and is often in highly difficult circumstances. He deserves a peaceful retirement, and UNICEF appeals for his release on humanitarian grounds.

KELEMEN: Baquer Namazi had gone to Iran earlier this year to visit his son Siamak, who was already in jail for several months. Siamak Namazi is a business consultant who wanted to improve ties between the U.S. and Iran, according to a family friend, Karim Sadjadpour, who's also an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

KARIM SADJADPOUR: He hoped, like many others, that after the nuclear deal which was signed with Iran things would change. And he was in many ways encouraged to go back to Iran by the government of Hassan Rouhani. And when he went back in the summer of 2015, within a few days his passport was taken away from him. And he's now been imprisoned for over a year.

KELEMEN: Sadjadpour says he believes Iranian hardliners are just trying to de-legitimize President Rouhani, whose government negotiated the nuclear deal.

SADJADPOUR: Increasingly, what the Iranian Revolutionary Guards do is they paint people like Siamak and his father, who are trying to be bridges between America and Iran, as Trojan horses who are trying to undermine and unseat the Iranian regime.

KELEMEN: Just this week, an Iranian news service posted a video showing images of Siamak Namazi as well as the U.S. sailors who were briefly detained in January.


KELEMEN: With dramatic music playing, the video also included an image the Iranians have shown before - a pallet of cash. The U.S. sent Iran $400 million in cash in January, clearing an old financial claims case. The same day, several Americans were released from Iranian jail. The Obama administration denies this was a ransom payment, but Sadjadpour sees that video as an attempt by Iranian hardliners to cut a deal.

SADJADPOUR: Siamak and his father are essentially hostages. And a precedent has now been set during the Obama administration that Iran detains U.S. citizens. And in order to release them, they are looking for a quid pro quo from the United States.

KELEMEN: There is at least one other Iranian-American in jail in Iran, and a Lebanese man who's a U.S. green card holder was also sentenced to 10 years in prison today. State Department spokesman Mark Toner says Secretary of State John Kerry often raises these cases with his Iranian counterpart.


MARK TONER: We have continually raised the plight of all U.S. citizens who we believe are unjustly detained by the Iranian authorities, and the Namazis are no exception.

KELEMEN: There were tougher words from Capitol Hill. California Republican Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee and whose picture was also in that Iranian video this week, says Iran is, quote, "making a mockery of its own legal system." He calls the trials against the Namazis a complete and total sham. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.