This article was published by VOA News. The original publication can be found here
Composite image of five Western-linked detainees held by Iran. From left to right: Xiyue Wang, Baquer Namazi, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Siamak Namazi and Nizar Zakka.Iran’s practice of detaining foreigners and Iranians with Western ties for alleged security offenses has prompted their families to join forces for the first time to lobby international diplomats for their release.
In the first gathering of its kind, family members of the detainees collectively met with officials of the United States and other nations Wednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, urging them to press Iran to free their loved ones.
One of those who joined the campaign is Daniel Levinson, a son of American Bob Levinson, who went missing in Iran 11 years ago. Family members believe Tehran is holding the elder Levinson, but Iranian officials have denied knowledge of his whereabouts.
“By working with these other families, the goal is to make sure that the world is not forgetting that Iran has taken a number of American hostages,” Daniel Levinson told VOA Persian Thursday via Skype from New York. “We have to band together, make sure our message gets out and continue to work with whoever in the U.S. government and international governments can help us.”
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Levinson said he met with several U.S. officials this week in New York.
“It seems like they are pressing our case to get (my) dad home,” he said. “We also have several (other) governments who hopefully will be talking to the Iranian government during their (UNGA) meetings.”
In remarks this week to a New York forum of U.S. advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton both repeated U.S. calls for Iran to locate Bob Levinson and enable him to return home.
“We are encouraged that the Trump administration is taking the right steps to keep the pressure on Iran and make sure that they are not going to get away with my dad being taken (captive) for this long,” the younger Levinson said.
British-Iranian charity worker
Another family member of a detained Westerner who joined this week’s lobbying efforts in New York was Richard Ratcliffe, husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe — a British-Iranian charity worker for the Thomson Reuters Foundation held in Iran for 2½ years.
“We don’t normally say Nazanin is a hostage, (although) I do talk about her being a bargaining chip,” Ratcliffe said in an article posted by the Foundation on Thursday. “She hasn’t done anything (wrong). And actually … (she is a) state-held hostage. The U.K. needs to do something. The U.N. needs to do something.”
Family members of Western-linked foreigners and Iranians detained by Tehran long have accused it of using their loved ones as bargaining chips in Iranian disputes with Western powers. Iran has said little about the detainees beyond the alleged security offenses that they have been charged with. Relatives and other supporters of the detainees say those detainees are innocent.
In a report published Wednesday, the U.S.-based rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it has documented the cases of 14 Iranian dual or foreign nationals whom Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has arrested since 2014. HRW said Iran’s security apparatus has escalated its targeting of such dual citizens and foreign nationals whom Tehran perceives to have undesirable links with Western academic, economic, and cultural institutions.
Those detainees include Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi, Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, and Lebanese U.S. permanent resident Nizar Zakka.
En agenda de esta comisión está el debate y votación de la Ley de Derechos Humanos y Anticorrupción de Nicaragua, S. 3233, presentada por el líder demócrata en ese Comité, Bob (Robert) Menéndez.
Este miércoles inicia el camino legislativo para la aprobación de iniciativas de Ley de sanciones contra el régimen del dictador Daniel Ortega como respuesta a las graves y sistemáticas violaciones a los derechos humanos, la corrupción y la falta de democracia en Nicaragua. El Comité de Relaciones Exteriores del Senado debatirá el tema.
En agenda de esta comisión está el debate y votación de la Ley de Derechos Humanos y Anticorrupción de Nicaragua, S. 3233, presentada por el líder demócrata en ese Comité, Bob (Robert) Menéndez.
Se espera que el resultado que saldrá este miércoles de ese Comité es la fusión de su iniciativa —que establece sanciones a personas responsables de violencia y abusos a los derechos humanos—, y la conocida Nica Act cuya autora es la congresista republicana Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
La discusión legislativa surge en momentos que Estados Unidos y la comunidad internacional aumentan la presión contra Ortega, quien se rehúsa a detener la violencia contra manifestantes pacíficos que demandan su salida del poder. Pero también rechaza las elecciones anticipadas. La congresista Ros-Lehtinen dijo el lunes pasado que el resultado sería una “ley fuerte para los abusadores de derechos humanos”.
Abanico de sanciones
El exasesor en la Cámara de Representantes, Jason Poblete, explicó que la unión de los proyectos legislativos contempla sanciones a individuos (el del senador Menéndez) y comprensivas (Nica Act) que estarían dirigidas a “sectores de la economía que le dan apoyo al sistema”, esto sería en referencia a organismos multilaterales.
En esa misma línea se contempla la limitación del acceso al mercado estadounidense. En el caso de Nicaragua, el Nica Act condicionaría el acceso a los créditos al régimen de Ortega, para evitar el mal uso de los fondos crediticios de la banca internacional, afirmó Ros-Lehtinen el pasado lunes.
Poblete dijo que se ha llegado al punto de promover sanciones contra el Gobierno de Nicaragua, porque representa una amenaza a los intereses del hemisferio, a la seguridad y la estabilidad de la región.
“Lo que está sucediendo en Nicaragua ya no solo afecta al país. Es una situación que se ha desbordado porque hay una crisis potencial migratoria. Hay una crisis humanitaria”, indicó.
Lo anterior es para el experto un campo fértil para la migración ilegal, el crimen organizado y el narcotráfico. “Creo debe haber una respuesta regional, Estados Unidos está dando apoyo y trabajando con nuestros aliados de otros países en Centroamérica para contener el problema y crear estabilidad en Nicaragua”.
“La corrupción ha penetrado el sistema en Nicaragua. Está contribuyendo a la permanencia del sandinismo en el poder. Este proyecto de Ley lo que está haciendo es la mezcla de ciertas propuestas de consenso enfocada en la defensa de los derechos humanos, pero también llegar a una solución negociada a la crisis de ser posible”.
Según informes de organismos de derechos humanos, la represión de Ortega ha causado entre 322 y 512 muertos.
La visión del gobierno
La dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo ha defendido que ellos han sido víctimas de un intento de golpe de Estado en los hechos ocurridos a partir de abril.
Sin embargo, en realidad, lo que ocurrió fue una rebelión cívica que fue brutalmente reprimida por el Gobierno, a través de la Policía Orteguista y los paramilitares que aterrorizaban a los ciudadanos en sus barrios. La represión, además de muertes, ha provocado el éxodo de miles de personas en busca de su bienestar y ante la amenaza reiterada del partido Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional que opera en los barrios a través de los Consejos del Poder Ciudadanos, órganos de control civil de Ortega.
The following article was published by The Washington Free Beacon on September 20, 2018. The original publication can be read here.
IRANIAN OFFICIAL SLAMS REGIME OVER MISTREATMENT OF IMPRISONED AMERICAN
A senior Iranian official’s pointed public criticism of the regime’s mistreatment of a U.S. permanent resident imprisoned in Iran for three years is offering a glimmer of hope for his family and advocates of all western prisoners held in Iran after years of despair and stalled negotiations.
Shahindokht Molaverdi, an outspoken senior adviser on human rights to Iranian President Rouhani, late last week for the first time said the Iranian government had “failed” to help Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-born internet-freedom advocate who she had invited to a government-sponsored summit.
After participating in the summit and posing for photos with Molaverdi and several other Iranian officials, Zakka was captured on his way to the airport to fly back to the United States by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Sept. 18, 2015, and jailed, according to his attorney and Molaverdi. He was later charged with spying for the U.S. government and sentenced to 10 years in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.
“This is in no way approved by the government,” Molaverdi told the Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview published on Friday. “We did all we could to stop this from happening, but we are seeing that we have failed to make a significant impact.”
Zakka, who has lived in the United States for decades, is one of 15 publicly known prisoners with strong western ties unjustly imprisoned in Iran, according to Amnesty International.
The Washington Free Beacon first reported that Molaverdi had invited Zakka to the government-sponsored summit and the exact timing and details of his imprisonment in September 2015.
Zakka was arrested and imprisoned a day after delivering a presentation on information communication technology for “women empowerment” at the conference, a presentation designed to help women become more active within their communities.
Molaverdi has requested the presentation and approved it, according to Zakka’s attorney, Jason Poblete.
Zakka has gone on six hunger strikes and last year issued a desperate plea for his release in an audio recording, asserting his innocence on the spying charges. Poblete said Zakka’s health is in sharp decline and he continues to refuse to sign a confession to the spying charges despite repeated demands by his prison guards to do so.
The willingness of an Iranian official to publicly challenge the government’s actions surprised some U.S. human rights activists who said such internal public dissension on the treatment of an American prisoner is virtually unprecedented.
The comments spurred a new round of speculation—and a degree of hope for families and advocates of western prisoners held in Iran—that Iran’s economic turmoil and ongoing nationwide protests over the regime’s brutal and oppressive policies is starting to give moderates more leverage against the regime hardliners.
“It’s a huge risk to criticize the judiciary like that—I have to admire her for doing it. It’s encouraging,” Elise Auerbach, an Iran country specialist for Amnesty International USA, told the Washington Free Beacon. “Rouhani himself, left to his own devices, I think would not choose to be imprisoning all these prisoners of conscience … but he doesn’t have any real control on what the security agencies do.”
Molaverdi has a history of speaking out on controversial subjects, including women’s rights. She has condemned police actions against women loosely wearing their mandatory headscarves and has pushed for access for women to sporting events.
Poblete, Zakka’s U.S.-based attorney, called Molaverdi’s remarks a “welcome sign” and an acknowledgement that his client was falsely accused. Still, more direct action is needed to secure his release, he said.
“Nizar was in your country as a guest. You extended a personal invitation, signed by you. Nizar responded to your letter with the information you requested. As Nizar has said before, Nizar was kidnapped and thrown in jail, not treated like a guest,” he said in a statement. “You have not visited him or called him. This injustice has caused great and some unspeakable stresses on Nizar and his family.”
“There are humanitarian and other grounds for Nizar’s release, and all parties of interest—they know who they are—need to work expeditiously to right this injustice,” he urged.
Others who closely monitor Iran’s human rights record stress that the Rouhani government is complicit in the unjust imprisonment of Americans and other western citizens and argue that the international community should hold them far more accountable for these violations of international law.
Tzvi Kahn, a senior Iran analyst with the Foundation for Defense of Democracy, a foreign-policy think tank, says the IRGC, which imprisoned Zakka, and routinely collaborates with the Rouhani administration, as well as intelligence ministry and police that report directly to Rouhani, to “suppress protests and any kind of dissent within the government.”
“Overall, [Molaverdi’s] critique rings rather hollow because the government itself is complicit in this hostage-taking,” Kahn said. “It’s important to remember that even though there are often turf wars and disagreements in the [Iranian] government, for the most part, they cooperate in fueling repressions and suppressing protests and in the capturing of dual nationals.”
Kahn also brushed aside suggestions that Molaverdi’s comments could help further efforts Zakka’s and other western prisoners’ release and blamed the Obama administration’s early 2016 prisoner swap and payment of $1.7 billion to Tehran for encouraging Iran to continue taking American hostages and demanding payments or other exchanges for their release in violation of international law.
“Overwhelmingly, the regime wants to keep these people in prison to use them as bargaining chips with U.S. and the West,” he said. “They have done it in the past successfully, but I don’t think the Trump administration would negotiate a similar release.”
Kahn credits the Trump administration’s decision to scrap President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and new rounds of U.S. sanctions with fueling a pressure campaign that could “play a role for some Iranians to push back a little.”
Top officials in the Trump administration and several key members of Congress have made the imprisonment of dual nationals a sticking point to the United States reopening the nuclear negotiations, Kahn noted.
Pompeo included the release of dual nationals in 12 broad conditions he laid out in a May 21 speech that Tehran must meet in any new nuclear treaty, along with providing international inspectors with unqualified access to all nuclear sites in the country, ending its proliferation of ballistic missiles and further launches of nuclear-capable missile systems, and its support for Middle East terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.
Family of Cuban-American jailed in Cuba for espionage pleads for U.S attorney, consular visits
The case of Alina López Miyares runs into Cuba’s policy of considering anyone born in Cuba to be a Cuban national once they step foot on the island.
by Carmen Sesin / Sep.07.2018 / 5:35 PM ET
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The family and attorney of a Cuban-American citizen who is in a Cuban prison after being sentenced to 13 years for alleged espionage are asking the country’s authorities to allow the woman to receive U.S. consular and attorney visits.
But the case of Alina López Miyares, 59, runs into Cuba’s longstanding policy of considering anyone born in Cuba to be a Cuban national once they step foot on the island. Cuba is among a number of countries who don’t recognize dual U.S. citizenship.
The U.S. embassy in Cuba states in their website, “Cuban authorities may deny U.S. consular officers access to dual Cuban-American citizens.”
According to a source intimately familiar with the case, López Miyares was sentenced for allegedly spying for the U.S. Her husband, Felix Martín Milanés Fajardo — a former Cuban official assigned to the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations — was sentenced to 17 years, according to her mother.
Jason Poblete, a Washington D.C. based attorney who is representing López Miyares, said “there have been repeated overtures for consular service and they have been denied or the Cubans have been non-responsive.”
He said a legal team from his practice is prepared to travel to the island if the Cuban government were to allow them access to López Miyares.
Vicki Huddleston, who was Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1999 to 2002, said they were not able to see Cuban-Americans jailed in Cuba. “We would reach out to the government and request to see them, but the answer was always no.”
Jim Cason, who succeeded Huddleston as Chief of the U.S. Interests section in Havana and is a former ambassador to Paraguay, said Cuba was very tough on their policy of dual nationality.
A U.S. State Department official did not confirm nor deny the imprisonment of López Miyares, citing privacy laws.
But in a statement to NBC News, the official stated that some of the most vulnerable U.S. citizens abroad are those who are detained in a foreign county, adding the State Department is always ready to provide services and help.
López Miyares’ 91-year-old mother, Alina — her daughter is named after her — has been traveling from Miami to Havana every month to see her daughter and take her food. The mother said López Miyares has lost 40 pounds and has high blood pressure and other health issues; she said that she takes her medication from the U.S. every month.
López Miyares’ mother said the worry over her daughter is taking a toll on her and her 97-year-old husband, who has heart problems. “They are killing my husband and me,” said López Miyares’ mother, who said that her daughter, whom she believes is innocent, should be allowed to see her U.S. attorney and U.S. officials.
According to the family, López Miyares was born in Cuba and came to the U.S with her relatives in 1969 as a child, where she became a naturalized citizen. They settled in West New York, New Jersey. She worked as a teacher in public schools in New York and in the late 1990s moved to Miami.
It was during a trip to New York in the early 2000s that she met her husband, according to her mother, who did not have specific details.
Chris Simmons, who was chief of a Cuban counterintelligence unit for the Defense Intelligence Agency, told NBC News that Milanés Fajardo was actually a Cuban spy with the cover of third secretary at the mission from 1989 to 1993. His identity was eventually compromised by Cuban defectors, said Simmons, which was also reported in the Miami Herald.
López Miyares’ mother said the couple got married in Cuba; none of her U.S. relatives attended. After they wed, López Miyares returned to Miami to live and continue working as a teacher. She would travel to Havana to visit Milanés Fajardo during the winter and summer breaks.
According to López Miyares’ mother, her daughter last went to Cuba in January of 2017 at the behest of her husband. When she arrived at the airport in Havana, López Miyares was detained by authorities, her mother said.
Her mother traveled to Havana for the trial but was not allowed inside the courtroom. She said she wore a sign over her chest saying “I love you, my daughter” so she could see it when she walked past her on her way to the courtroom.
The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
While U.S. and Cuba relations have deteriorated under the Trump administration after a historic thaw under former Pres. Barack Obama, William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, doesn’t think that Lopez Miyares’ case would “make the relationship any worse.”
Experts like LeoGrande, former chief of mission Huddleston, and former DIA officer Simmons, suggested if López Miyares is guilty, the U.S. government may try to get her out through a spy exchange.
In 2016, during the Obama administration, NBC News reported that Cuba and the U.S. were discussing possible exchanges of prisoners. American officials said, at the time, they were interested in getting back Americans who sought refuge in Cuba from U.S. prosecution.
The last spy exchange between the U.S. and Cuba took place in December 2014 as part of the normalization of relations between the two countries. U.S. contractor Alan Gross and Rolando Sarraff Trujillo, who Obama described as one of the most important intelligence agents the U.S. ever had on the island, were exchanged for three Cuban spies in the U.S.
“I’m sure there are those within the Cuban government that are thinking, eventually the Americans will come and negotiate for her,” Simmons, the former DIA officer, said about López Miyares. “The Cubans take a very long-term view.”
Meanwhile, López Miyares’ mother said she continues to support her and always tells her, “while you have a mother, nothing is going to happen to you.”