When Siamak Namazi traveled to Tehran in the summer of 2015, Iran had just signed a landmark nuclear deal and the government was encouraging expatriates to come home and bring their skills and dollars.
So the 51-year-old Iranian American businessman left his home in Dubai to visit his parents and attend a funeral in Iran.
But he was arrested and accused of “collaborating with an enemy government” – a reference to the United States – and eventually became the longest-held American citizen recognized by Iran in prison. In January, he went on a hunger strike for seven days to draw attention to his plight.
Last Thursday, Mr. Namazi, along with four other dual-national Iranian Americans, became part of a prisoner transfer agreement between Iran and the US
“I was held hostage for seven and a half years – that’s six times the duration of the hostage crisis,” said Mr. during the 1979 revolution and was held for 444 days. “We were taken for one reason and one reason only — and that’s because we’re US citizens.”
In exchange for the release of the Americans, the US agreed to release five Iranians imprisoned for violating sanctions against Iran, and to release about $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets held in South Korea. The money will be transferred to a bank account in Qatar and will only be used in Iran for humanitarian purposes, such as paying for medicine and medical equipment.
The ordeal for Americans held in Iran is far from over. Iran’s foreign ministry said the five would be allowed to board a plane from Iran if the money landed in a Qatari bank account. Currently, they have been released from prison and remain under house arrest in a hotel in Tehran.
Other American detainees include Emad Sharghi, 58, a businessman who was sentenced in 2020 to 10 years in prison on espionage charges; and Morad Tahbaz, 68, a British-born businessman and wildlife conservationist who was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years on charges of “contact with the US government.”
The US government did not name the other two prisoners, due to the request of their families that they remain anonymous. One is a California businessman who was detained nearly a year ago, and the other is a woman who worked for nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan and was arrested in 2023, according to people familiar with the deal and reports in Iranian media.
Mr. Namazi grew up around the world and has a master’s degree from the London Business School. He comes from a well-known family from the city of Shiraz in central Iran, where a major hospital is named after them. Mr. Namazi travels back and forth to Iran and lives in Tehran, working for a family-run consulting firm.
He has become an expert on Iran’s economy, markets and inevitably the politics that overshadow all sectors of Iran. He studied the impact of sanctions on Iran’s economy and was recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of its Young Global Leaders.
“It is a tragedy for a man as talented as Siamak to waste eight years in prison, some of the most productive years of his life,” said Ahmad Kiarostami, a close friend of Mr. Namazi. “He’s a fighter. Even in prison he wanted to stay on top of international news and read as many books as he could.
His father, Baquer Namazi, 87, was the governor of Khuzestan Province before the country’s 1979 revolution and continues to work for UNICEF in senior roles around the world. In 2016, one year after the arrest of the junior Mr. Namazi, the Iranian authorities lured his father back to Tehran from Dubai with the promise that he would see his son. The old Mr. Namazi was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison on the same charges as his son.
Due to his failing health, the senior Mr. Namazi was allowed to leave Iran in October 2022 to join his family in Dubai and undergo treatment for blocked arteries in his brain.
Mr. Tahbaz, a wealthy businessman who lives in Connecticut and is known to friends for his big game hunts, discovers during his travels to Iran that the country’s Asiatic cheetahs are in danger of extinction. So he decided to act.
In 2018, he founded the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting Iran’s endangered animals. In 2018, he and eight other employees of the organization were arrested on espionage charges.
Mr. Tahbaz suffered from prostate cancer during detention and contracted Covid-19 three times, his daughter Tara said in an April interview with Reuters. His sister told the BBC that he had lost 88 pounds in detention. Mr. Tahbaz has three children. His wife Vida, 64, traveled to Iran after he was detained and has since been banned from leaving the country.
“Morad has always been a man dedicated to his family, community, wildlife and Iran,” said Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh, a plastic surgeon in New York and friend of Mr. Tahbaz. “He spent his life trying to save endangered species.”
Mr. Sharghi, 58, moved to Tehran on a whim with his wife in 2017 after their two daughters left for college in the U.S. The couple vacationed around the country and enjoyed reconnecting with relatives and Iranian culture. .
A partner in an Abu Dhabi company that leases and sells private planes, Mr. Sharghi explores business opportunities for startups in Iran.
In an interview with The New York Times in 2021, his wife, Bahareh Amidi, a poet, described her husband as an angel stuck in a prison cell without his wings. He said he was “the kindest companion, the most present father.”
In 2018, security forces raided the couple’s home and arrested Mr. Sharghi. After eight months of detention he was released from prison and later acquitted of all charges. But the authorities seized his passport and when he tried to flee the country in 2021 through a land border they arrested him and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
The ordeal for the American prisoners and their families is expected to end in September when they are scheduled to leave Iran. But healing from trauma can take time.
“The pain that our family has experienced in the last three years is indescribable,” said Ariana and Hannah Sharghi, daughters of Mr. Sharghi, wrote in a 2021 essay in The Washington Post. The cherry blossom tree in their back yard bloomed and withered again, they said, without him.