Christine Levinson (right), wife of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, watches as her son Daniel Levinson displays a web print of his father's picture to journalists while attending a news conference at Switzerland's embassy in Tehran December 22, 2007.

Families Of US Hostages Left Behind Plead For Help

Tuesday, 09/19/2023

Families of Iran’s hostages not included in the US prisoner swap deal have called on Washington for an explanation on the fate of their loved ones. 

The family of retired FBI agent Bob Levinson, who disappeared in Iran in 2007, and the daughter of Jamshid Sharmahd, who is on death row in Iran, issued separate statements after the regime freed five American citizens in exchange for $6 billion and five Iranians detained in the US. The other American resident that was not included in the deal was Shahb Dalili, an Iranian citizen with permanent residence status in the United States who remains imprisoned in Iran.

Dalili, a former captain of Iran Shipping Company and a US resident, was arrested during a trip to Tehran in 2016 for his father's funeral, after which he was apprehended by Iranian security forces. His family held several rounds of sit-ins outside the White House, the latest of which was in August. Darin Dalili, Shahab Dalili's son, has repeatedly pointed out the apparent contradiction with the Robert Levinson Law, which addresses the return of hostages, including US permanent residents. Highlighting a discrepancy between policy and practice, he underlined that despite this law, a green card holder remains imprisoned in Iran without clear resolution or intervention from US authorities.

Levinson, a former FBI agent, was taken prisoner by Iran’s intelligence apparatus while conducting an unauthorized freelance investigation on Kish Island, off Iran’s southern coast. Iranian officials have never explicitly acknowledged detaining Levinson, while US officials believe he was held as a possible bargaining chip.

During an interview with CBS in 2012, former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not deny that Levinson was being held and implied there had been talks of a prisoner exchange. His family announced that he was presumed dead in March 2020, on the advice of US officials.

The Levinsons said in their statement, “We will never stop demanding that Iranian leaders answer for what happened to Robert Levinson, the greatest man we have ever known. His abduction on Iranian soil in March 2007, his years of imprisonment with a total lack of any human rights or decency, and ultimately his murder, are on their hands.”

The family of retired FBI agent Bob Levinson

They described the release of the Americans as part of the new deal as “good news,” saying, “Today is a great day because American hostages unjustly held by the government of Iran have been returned to their families... But make no mistake: Today’s good news does not end our family’s nightmare and ongoing pain. Nor does it mask or excuse the shameful cruelty and unending lies of the Iranian regime.”

They also expressed gratitude to the Biden Administration for sanctioning former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) "for their involvement in the constant promotion of lies about Robert Levinson’s whereabouts that still persist to this day.”

Immediately after the release of the hostages – at least three of whom are Iranian-Americans -- President Joe Biden announced fresh sanctions on the hardline former Iranian president and the country’s notorious intelligence ministry over the still undetermined fate of Levinson.

Jamshid Sharmahd and his wife and daughter in the US

Sharmahd, who holds German and Iranian citizenship and is a US permanent resident, was abducted by Iranian agents in Dubai in 2020, smuggled to Iran, and sentenced to death in February. He was convicted of heading a pro-monarchist group named Tondar accused of a deadly bombing incident that occurred in 2008 at a religious center in Shiraz, killing 14 and injuring 215 more.

Having actively sought US officials' attention through sit-in protests outside the State Department to advocate for her father's case to no avail, Sharmahd's daughter, Gazelle, urged Biden – and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz -- to explain how they are going to ensure her father "will be safe and alive and not murdered."

Jamshid Sharmahd during a court hearing in Tehran

"The last American patriot left behind in a hostage release in 2015 was Bob Levinson, and we all know that cost him his life,” she stated. “At this point, President Biden and Chancellor Scholz owe our family an explanation of how they will redouble their efforts to make sure this horrific hostage-abandonment deal will not cost my dad his life and get him out of the torture chamber to rejoin our family, and what do they plan to do about this in weeks, not months or years."

Referring to her father’s death sentence, Gazelle said her father “was left behind to die.”

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