Open Letter from Nizar Zakka, Former Iran Hostage, On the Fourth Anniversary of his Abduction
On this day four years ago, kidnappers decided to make September 18, 2015, a turning point in my life. The only motivation was to make me a pawn in their campaign against the emerging spirit of openness in their country, a process which was heading toward the nuclear deal.
On this day, four years ago, I was forced to begin a journey of the harshest bitterness, pain and sorrow. My only fault was that, on that day, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, on my way back from Tehran to Beirut, concluding an official working visit at the invitation of the Iranian Presidency.
This has been a crushing ordeal for me and my family. You can’t imagine the suffering this causes until you’ve lived it. This ordeal has changed me, permanently. I can’t rest; I can’t sleep. My waking hours are filled with pain. During my fitful hours of sleep, these dreams torture my soul. My priorities have changed. The wound is brutal and painful. I had not imagined that its impact could be so horrific, a horror I live with every day. Family is my one comfort, especially my three brave sons who risked so much to bring about my release.
Today I spent the fourth anniversary of my detention alone in the presence of God, in silent isolation. I wanted to be away from anyone, even from my family. I try to forgive, to overcome injustice and pain. I strive to gather the broken pieces of my life and emerge from my distress, in order to regain the rest of my life that the kidnappers so brutally tried to take from me. They unjustly and oppressively robbed from me 4 years, which I feel was more like 4 decades. My life was turned upside down. My family was scattered, and my three children were denied parental care at the most critical and delicate times in their lives. I lost my job and everything I struggled for over the past 30 years.
It is no secret that my priorities have changed, and that my view of life and of people has changed. I want to spend the rest of my life ensuring that no one suffers what I endured, an innocent oppressed in the face of my executioner. This is my message and the message left to my conscience by all those who contributed to my victory, my rescue and my liberation, including my family, the Lebanese people, the U.S. Congress, the international community, and many many others. This is my message towards those who are still suffering in Evin and in any other prison around the world, waiting for their moment of freedom.
will make sure that my great pain gets invested in the service of peace, and I will strive every day to bring more attention to the issues of hostages and forcibly detained people, so that the forces of evil will not find a single shrine to declare a delusional victory over right and good.
For all this, I am in a hurry to heal, fully aware of the difficulty of the process of liberation from Evin’s pain and thick wounds.
I take the sad moment of the fourth anniversary of my detainment to ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to take all possible measures to secure the release of the hostages in any detention facility, particularly in Iran. I ask the Secretary-General to explore every possible path in order to prevent innocent people rotting away in dehumanizing prisons, and used as blackmail and bargaining in the game of nations.
I ask you, Mr. Secretary-General, to stop, once and for all, this great injustice that will only bring about more injustice, and the hatred that will only produce further hatred.
ADN CUBA: U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE POMPEO URGED TO SANCTION CUBAN OFFICIALS FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CRACKDOWN
Por ADN Cuba el 02 Sep 2019 – 7:20pm
Philanthropists, evangelists and lawyers concerned about individual liberty in Cuba recently urged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to issue new sanctions against regime officials whose job it is to suppress religious freedom on the Communist island.
The August 19 letter, signed by NGO officials Anna Lee B. Stangl of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Dr. Teo Babun, of “Scope of Aid to the Americas” and Jason Poblete of the Global Liberty Alliance formally asked Sec. Pompeo “to impose economic sanctions and restrict U.S. visas to persons who work for the ORA [Office of Religious Affairs] and the 1 2 Cuban Ministry of Justice.”
The authors also asked to “extend such economic sanctions to any individual or organization, no matter where they are located, who supports the ORA and the Cuban Ministry of Justice”.
As part of their request to take further action, the signatory NGO officials recognized Sec. Pompeo for his past efforts in “leading the defense of people of faith throughout the world,” and for being aware of the plight Cuban people have faced when openly trying to practice their religion.
In an interview with Diario de Cuba, Sec. Pompeo referenced a recent case of several religious leaders who were prevented by the Cuban regime from traveling to Washington, D.C.
“We are worried about the arrest of Roberto Quiñones (independent journalist and Catholic layman),” Sec. Pompeo told the Madrid based news organization. TheDiario de Cuba journalist who previously practiced law, and who currently lives in Cuba was summoned to trial the day after the newspaper published Sec. Pompeo’s comments.
“I am very surprised that after Mr. Pompeo made these statements I was summoned to trial,” Quiñones told ADNCUBA shortly before the trial which resulted in a one year prison sentence.
“The religious police of the Communist Party or the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA) is responsible for making it difficult for people of faith to exercise their fundamental rights,” the NGO letter insisted. “They use tactics that have already been used by other repressive systems, such as Stasi in East Germany. For years, the ORA has committed systematic, constant and heinous violations against the freedom of religion of people of faith.”
The letter also asks the US government to consider sanctions against officials who run and administer the Office of Religious Affairs, specifically making mention of Caridad del Rosario Diego, Sonia García and Rober Noa.
The letter also affirms that the Office “restricts the rights of prisoners to practice religion freely,” adding that the Cuban government “harasses or detains members of religious groups advocating for greater religious and political freedom.”
“We respectfully ask the US government (…) to investigate the entry into the United States of people who may have been affiliated with these Cuban entities that operate with impunity in Cuba”
Apostolic groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ultimately denied entry into the official registry of Cuban churches because the ORA does not respond to registration requests to worship, the letter says.
Citing specific examples of religious repression, the letter refers to the cases of Pastors Ramón Rigal and Ayda Expósito, both tried and jailed for educating their children at home (homeschooling), and reference the ban on Catholic lay leaders from attending the funerals of Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
“We respectfully ask the US government (…) to investigate the entry into the United States of people who may have been affiliated with these Cuban entities that operate with impunity in Cuba,” the letter closes.
The NGO officials reminded Sec. Pompeo, that the U.S. State Department has, in the past recognized that the Castro regime “continues to control all aspects of religious life” through its institutions under the control of the Communist Party.”
“Under the direction of the Office of Religious Affairs, the government has continued to restrict national and international travel, stopping and, if necessary, using violence against religious leaders and their followers,” the authors argued.
In its final closing, the leaders also acknowledged that the ORA’s efforts to suppress religious freedom have transcended the island borders of Cuba and into other Communist states such as Nicaragua and Venezuela.