After 2,898 days of captivity in Iran, Siamak Namazi desperately wanted to feel the warmth of the sun on his face, to lie down on the grass and look up at the blue sky.
“For nearly eight years, I have dreamed of this day,” Namazi said in a statement after his release with four other Americans in a prisoner exchange with Iran. “I want to see foliage instead of walls and guards.”
President Joe Biden said Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Sharghi and two others who did not want their identities disclosed, braved years of “agony, uncertainty and suffering.”
“These Americans are now free after enduring something I think most of us cannot imagine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
All had been accused – wrongly, according to the White House – of being spies or working on behalf of the American government in Iran.
Here are three of their stories:
Siamak Namazi, 52, the longest-held American prisoner in Iran, is an Iranian-American businessman. He was arrested in October 2015 while visiting family in Tehran.
When his father, Baquer Namazi, a retired UNICEF official, traveled to Iran in 2016 to help free his son, he too was arrested. Both were sentenced to ten years in prison. Baquer Namazi was released last year for medical treatment.
Months before her father’s release in October, Siamak Namazi made a public appeal to Biden in an opinion piece in The New York Times. He implored the president to “make the difficult decisions necessary to free us all immediately.”
Namazi said he was “left to rot in a high-security detention center” after other Americans were safely returned to the United States in 2016.
“Often kept in a bare room the size of a closet, I slept on the floor and received food under the door – like a dog,” he wrote. “I endured unspeakable indignities during the 27 months I spent in this corner of hell before being transferred to the common ward. »
In January, on the seventh anniversary of the US-Iran prisoner exchange that did not include him, Namazi began a week-long hunger strike and again appealed to Biden.
“All I want, sir, is one minute of your day for the next seven days dedicated to thinking about the tribulations of the American hostages in Iran,” he wrote in a letter shared by his lawyer.
After his release on Monday, Namazi expressed his “sincere gratitude” to Biden for “putting the lives of American citizens before politics.”
“Thank you for ending this nightmare,” he said. “Thanks thanks thanks!”
Namazi, who came to the United States with his family in 1983, became a U.S. citizen in 1993, according to United Against Nuclear Iran, a nonprofit organization that includes many former U.S. and foreign government security officials.
In 1998, he founded a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm focused on the risks of doing business in Iran, according to the organization.
He was working for Crescent Petroleum, headquartered in the United Arab Emirates, at the time of his arrest.
Emad Shargi, 59, who spent five and a half years in Iranian detention, was born in Iran but emigrated to the United States as a child. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in management information systems from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., according to his family.
He has two daughters and his wife, Bahareh Amidi Shargi, who also left Iran for the United States as a child after that country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. She is a poet who has taught educational psychology at universities and who once gave a TEDx talk on the therapeutic power of poetry, according to an excerpt of her talk posted on YouTube in 2012, as well as information posted on her site Personal web.
For years, Shargi worked as an associate in a private aircraft sales and rental company named Executive Aircraft Sales in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The Shargis lived together in the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom for almost a decade, but as their children prepared to go to college, they began to consider a new move that would have dramatic consequences for them as a family, according to a 2015 study. interview with a UK-based airline industry website and newsletter called Corporate Jet Investor.
“We each wrote down the top three places we would like to go on a piece of paper, before showing them to each other,” Sharghi told the publication. Tehran was at the top of their list. It was the same year that the Obama administration reached a nuclear deal with Iran and several world powers.
“It’s a really nice and friendly place to visit,” Sharghi said in the interview with Corporate Jet Investor. “Over the past few years I have invited a number of people to visit and have been so proud of the way they have made us feel at home.”
They took the plunge in 2017.
Shargi held a commercial leadership role at Sarava, an Iran-based venture capital firm that invested in Iran’s technology sector.
But his newfound optimism about how welcoming Iran had become would not last long.
He was arrested at his home in Tehran by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 2018, initially on espionage charges. These were later abandoned. But his passport was not returned to him and he was therefore unable to leave Iran. Two years later, he was arrested again and convicted of espionage and sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, he was not immediately jailed and was released on bail. He was later arrested again while trying to flee Iran by fleeing to northern Iraq.
“My family is very happy to learn that Emad is no longer in Iran and is returning home. We have been waiting for this day for almost five and a half years and I can’t wait to hold my brother in my arms and never let him go,” said Neda Sharghi, Emad’s sister, who spells his last name “ Sharghi.”
In a call with Biden on Monday, Bahareh Shargi, Emad’s wife, told the president: “It was the first time in five years that we had light in our house again.” »
Morad Tahbaz, 67, is a citizen of three countries: the United States, Iran and Great Britain.
He is a graduate of Colgate University and Columbia Business School, according to his LinkedIn profile. He graduated from Columbia in 1983 with an MBA. Tahbaz has ties to Connecticut.
Tahbaz was one of eight conservationists affiliated with the Tehran-based Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation who were arrested in Iran in 2018 while carrying out fieldwork in the country. One of the projects the foundation was working on at the time of their arrest was monitoring the endangered Asiatic cheetah, which lives primarily in Iran, according to the organization’s website.
At the time of his arrest, Tahbaz was the CEO of the foundation.
Iranian authorities have accused scientists of using their specialized cameras as part of the wildlife project to collect sensitive Iranian military information to share with the United States.
It was rumored that he was ill during his imprisonment. His daughter told Reuters in April that he was suffering from prostate cancer.
“For 4 years, the Iranian government has held Morad Tahbaz – a British and American citizen – in Evin prison,” Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, said on X, formerly Twitter, earlier this year. “Morad is a family man, an environmentalist and a cancer survivor. Iran should release him.