Baqer (L) nd Siamak Namazi before 2015 when Siamak was arrested in Iran.

Baqer (L) nd Siamak Namazi before 2015 when Siamak was arrested in Iran.

Biden Signs Order For ‘Bringing Home Hostages’ From Iran And Elsewhere


US President Joe Biden signed Tuesday an executive order empowering government departments and bodies to impose sanctions over Americans detained overseas.

A statement from the United States State Department said the presidential order, dubbed ‘Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained United States Nationals Home’ was intended to “deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detentions” by creating “new ways to impose costs on terrorist organizations, criminal groups, and other malicious actors.”

Pressure on the Biden administration from families of detainees has been gaining more publicity since February’s arrest in Russia of basketball star Brittney Griner on drugs charges, which has provoked debate in the US.

While the government has no official figures for Americans detained abroad, the James W Foley Legacy Foundation, named after the journalist captured and killed by the Islamic State group (Isis) in Syria in 2014, has identified 64 US citizens and lawful long-term residents it says are unjustly detained in 18 countries.

These include Emad Shargi, and Siamak and Baqer Namazi in Iran, as well as detainees in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan, China, Turkey, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Rights groups have suggested Iran has held as bargaining chips other dual nationals, including Swedish-Iranian doctor Ahmadreza Djalali and British-Iranian environmentalist Morad Tahbaz. Tehran in March released British-Iranians Nazanin Zegari-Ratcliffe and Anoosh Ashoori the day after London honored a 40-year-old debt of £400 million ($480 million).

While directing government officials to work more closely with detainees’ families, Biden’s executive order gives an option of imposing financial and travel sanctions on those deemed “responsible for unjustly holding US nationals, whether their captor is a terrorist network or a state actor,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. The State Department will also add a new category to travel advisories that warn of countries where it says there is greater risk of wrongful detention, beginning immediately with Myanmar, China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela.

‘Nothing constructive on our hostages’

Relatives of detainees have criticized US successive governments for what they see as inertia. Following a video call between officials and family members Tuesday, Neda Shargi, sister of American-Iranian businessman Emad Shargi, jailed in Tehran since 2018, said she had heard “nothing constructive on our hostages.”

Several detainee relatives taking part in the video call said they felt the executive order was aimed more at deterring the future detentions of Americans than at securing releases of those currently jailed.

A prisoner swap with Russia in April saw Washington exchange former US marine Trevor Reed for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko, whose sentence for drug-smuggling Biden commuted. The swap came despite high tension between Moscow and Washington with the Ukraine war, which encouraged families of other detainees.

The US has conducted talks with Iran over a possible prisoner swap in parallel to but independent from – according to both sides – year-long talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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