The US left my father behind on Iran’s death row in $6bn prisoner swap

Five Americans were freed from Iranian jails situs slot gacor in a $6bn prisoner swap with the US this week, but missing among the group was Jamshid Sharmahd, a German citizen and long-time US resident, who has been sentenced to death by the Islamic Republic.

His daughter, Gazelle Sharmahd, said the US government has effectively left her father to die.

“Why would you leave the one that could be executed? That is mind-boggling to me,” she told i.

She cannot understand why her father was left out of the negotiations, which also saw five Iranians freed from American prisons.

Ms Sharmahd pictured with her father and mother (left) before Mr Sharmahd was abducted and imprisoned in Iran (Photo: Gazelle Sharmahd)

“What is your priority on who to get out? What are the criteria that you go by? Why wouldn’t you go by the threats on their lives? Who makes those calls?” she asked of the US government.

Mr Sharmahd, who has lived in Los Angeles with his family since 2003, was abducted by Iranian intelligence agents in Dubai in July 2020 and forcibly taken to Iran, where he has been in solitary confinement ever since.

He was charged with “corruption on Earth”, a vague term Iranian authorities use to refer to a broad range of offences. Mr Sharmahd was sentenced to death in February and continues to be held in an unknown location.

His family and Amnesty International say Mr Sharmhad was targeted because of the radio broadcasts he hosted on the website Tondar – which he created in 2006 – where dissident voices in Iran could share their views of the regime.

‘They named a price for his freedom’

Ms Sharmahd heard from him for the first time in two years when he unexpectedly called in July.

She believes the Iranian regime planned the call, as it came about two weeks before reports began to emerge of secret talks over a possible prisoner exchange between Washington and Tehran.

She said her father knew about the negotiations taking place, and that the Iranian regime put a price on his freedom.

“That’s when you know you’re talking directly to the Islamic regime, they were instructing him to talk about the deal, ‘go tell your family this is your price so they can tell your government’,” Ms Sharmahd said.

“The Islamic regime doesn’t go to the government and say ‘these are the hostages we want to give you, this is the price that we want’, they go through the families.”

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, right, gestures as her husband Richard Ratcliffe looks on, during a press conference hosted by her local MP Tulip Siddiq, in the Macmillan Room, Portcullis House, following her release from detention in Iran, in London, Monday March 21, 2022. (Victoria Jones/Pool Photo via AP)
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, at a press conference following her release from detention in Iran (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA)

After British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran in 2016 on accusations of plotting to overthrow the government, she and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, maintained that her case was related to a £400m debt that the UK owed to Tehran in relation to purchase of Chieftain tanks in the 70s.

“I didn’t know the details at the time. But I think it was the week two or week three that I was arrested, like six years ago, that they told me: ‘We want something off the Brits. We will not let you go until such time that we get it.’ And they did keep their promise,” Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe said at a press conference last year, soon after she was released.

She was freed after the UK government settled the debt, but British officials insisted that the two issues were separate, with then foreign secretary Liz Truss saying the settlement happened “in parallel” with Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release.

Ms Sharmahd, who did not want to disclose how much Iran wanted for her father’s release, said she immediately told US and German authorities of the phone call, but was told Mr Sharmahd was not part of the prisoner exchange.

Officials did not clarify why, she added, claiming her family have been “left in the dark” over what is happening – if anything – to get her father out of Iran.

She accused both governments of playing “responsibility ping pong”, saying the issues were being tossed back and forth between the two countries, while her father suffers.

Mr Sharmahd has Parkinson’s disease and delayed access to medication causes him severe aches and pains. His family says he has lost most of his teeth and is suffering from malnutrition.

“His voice had changed so much, he was a broken man,” Ms Sharmahd said of the July call. “He spent the entire time in solitary confinement, over 1,100 days by himself, that breaks you.

“He did not know anything about the world, he didn’t know there was a revolution going on [in Iran], I had to tell him that.

“At the same time that I am talking to my dad I am thinking what if this is my last phone call? Am I supposed to say goodbye to him? What do you say to someone who’s going to be executed?

“I miss my dad so much. He’s my best friend, the person that motivates me. He’s not giving up, he’s very strong.”

Gazelle Sharmahd and her family (Photo: Gazelle Sharmahd)
The Sharmahd family live in Los Angeles (Photo: Gazelle Sharmahd)

A German foreign ministry spokesperson said: “The German government is advocating continuously for Mr Sharmadh, on all diplomatic levels.

“The German Federal Foreign Office is in regular contact with Mr Sharmahd’s family and will continue to work vigorously for Mr Sharmahd.”

A US State Department spokesperson said: “We remain deeply concerned about the reports of reprehensible treatment that Jamshid Sharmahd is facing at the hands of the Iranian regime. He has also been sentenced to death after a legal proceeding that has been widely criticised as a sham trial.

“We will continue to demand that Iranian authorities respect his human rights and address the horrendous allegations that have been raised with respect to his treatment and legal proceedings.”

The department said Abram Paley, deputy special envoy for Iran, has met with members of the Sharmahd family “several times”, including last Thursday.

“We continue to closely follow his case, and have been in close contact with our German counterparts,” the spokesperson added.

Western governments ‘in denial’ over state hostage taking

Among the five freed Americans who returned home on Tuesday was Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship.

Mr Tahbaz was left out of a UK-brokered deal with Tehran in 2022 when Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, another British-Iranian, were freed.

Mr Ratcliffe said his wife spoke to the Tahbaz family after the wildlife conservationist, who was arrested in 2018 on vague charges of spying for the US, made it home.

“She was so pleased for them as she knows them well,” Mr Ratcliffe told i.

Describing how it must have felt for the family to be reunited, he said: “I would expect it to be a mixture of euphoria and disbelief. You don’t quite dare to believe it is over. It has been such a long struggle for them.”

Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between U.S. and Iran, arrive at Doha International Airport, Qatar September 18, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous???
Siamak Namazi and Morad Tahbaz, who were released during a prisoner swap deal between US and Iran, arrive at Doha airport, Qatar (Photo: Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters)

Mr Ratcliffe has accused western governments, including the UK, of not taking the issue of state hostage taking more seriously.

He said the international community is “still in denial” about the rise hostage diplomacy, which has become increasingly common – and successful – for rogue regimes in the past decade.

Countries including Iran, Russia and China have picked up Westerners, held them on spurious charges and subjected them to questionable legal processes, only to offer their freedom for a price.

“Governments still handle these cases as political problems, rather than treating state hostage taking as a kind of organised crime,” Mr Ratcliffe said.

“There might be more urgency and less rhetoric about how complicated they are if we were more honest about what hostage taking means.

“There are some countries who have begun to develop ad hoc initiatives, but there is nothing that could be considered a credible co-ordinated international strategy.

“We are at the beginning of a long road.”

The Qatar-brokered agreement that led to the release of hostage in Iran this week included the unfreezing of €6bn (£4.9bn) of Iranian money that was blocked in South Korea after US sanctions on Iran were strengthened in 2018.

The deal was fiercely criticised by some, including Iranian activists and US Republicans, who say it will encourage Iran to continue taking hostages.

Rachel Briggs, a leading UK expert on hostage-taking, said she understood the objections, saying it was “galling” to see Iran receive payments for the release of completely innocent people.

“The problem we face, unfortunately, is they don’t come home any other way,” she told i.

“There’s a responsibility on our state to do what’s needed to get people home as quickly as possible, and to do that in a way that concedes as little as possible.

“And that’s one of the reasons why these kind of negotiations can drag on, because both sides want to give as little as possible.”

In July, the Foreign Affairs Committee said the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) had rejected recommendations designed to improve the Government’s response, including creating the post of director for arbitrary and complex detentions to aid its handling of arrests of British citizens abroad.

The cross-party panel of MPs called for the foreign office to establish a media engagement plan with families from the early stages of a detention, but said ministers “did not clarify” its position on this.

Ms Briggs said: “We need evidence-based policy making. If we have learnt from case after case after case that diplomacy doesn’t work with Iran, then how about we focus our efforts on a different strategy?”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The safety of British nationals abroad is our utmost priority and FCDO consular officials are contactable 24/7 to offer families tailored support.

“By seeking to use foreign nationals for political bargaining, the regime’s leaders are fatally undermining Iran’s credibility on the world stage.

“The Government of Iran must end its practice of unfairly detaining British and other foreign nationals, and we will continue to work with likeminded partners to that end.”