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.”
As Trump celebrates the return of Americans held in North Korea, advocates for hostages in Iran, elsewhere continue to press for action
The following article by Susan Crabtree was published in the Washington Free Beacon on May 10, 2018.The long-awaited Trump administration appointment of a hostage czar to coordinate its efforts to win the freedom of Americans imprisoned overseas is expected to be coming soon on the heels of the White House celebration of North Korea’s release of three American hostages.
White House and State Department officials have been interviewing candidates for months and have recently selected Robert O’Brien, an attorney who served in the George W. Bush administration’s State Department and as the top partner at law firm Arent Fox’s California offices, according to knowledgeable sources.
Robert O’Brien is not to be confused with Jim O’Brien, who served several years as the Obama administration’s hostage czar, officially called the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs.
A National Security Council spokesman in February told the Washington Free Beacon that the administration is trying to find the “right, qualified candidate for this important role, and we will.”
A different NSC spokesman on Wednesday said, “We have no personnel announcements at this time.”
“The president’s commitment to securing the release of detained American citizens and hostages have been made amply clear by his track record,” the spokesman said.
President Trump repeatedly pledged to stop the unjust detentions of Americans abroad while on the campaign trail, and while in office has continued to amplify his administration’s efforts to win the hostages’ freedom as a major commitment.
Trump on Wednesday hailed the release of “3 wonderful gentleman that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” in a tweet and planned to welcome them home personally when they arrived at Andrews Air Force Base with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at 2 a.m. Thursday morning.
Kim Jon Un’s regime released Kim Hak-song, Kim Don-chul, and Kim Sang-duk, also known as Tony Kim, on Wednesday after the trio spent up to two years in North Korean labor camps.
Tony Kim’s family publicly posted a note of gratitude for “all those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home,” and thanked President Trump for “engaging directly with North Korea.”
“Mostly, we thank God for Tony’s safe return,” the Kim family said in its statement.
However, other family members and advocates for Americans who have been tortured and maltreated for years and remain behind bars in Iran’s most notorious prisons, as well as those other U.S. hostages held by other dangerous regimes around the world, remain heartbroken over their family members’ continued detention.
Several advocates for different prisoners who remain in Iran’s notorious Evin prison have previously given high marks to Trump’s national security team, especially former national security adviser Dina Powell, who they have met with several times, as well as U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Powell left the administration in December.
Still, the advocates and family members say, having a designated Trump administration official solely dedicated to working the return of Americans held hostages abroad, would give them even more confidence that the administration is following through on Trump’s pledge to prioritize their safe return.
Iran continues to hold at least seven American citizens or legal permanent U.S. residents, as well as numerous other hostages from U.S. allies, against their will.
Jared Genser, a human-rights attorney representing the Namazi family, whose father and one of their sons have been held in Iran for years, said that since Trump was inaugurated the Namazi family has had five different points of contact with the administration.
The plight of Baquer Namazi, a seriously ill, 81-year-old Iranian-American who has suffered several severe health crises while being held in Evin Prison, earlier this year focused new attention on the Trump administration’s efforts to engage Tehran and secure both Namazis’ release, as well as the release of several other Americans held there.
The Iranian government rebuffed multiple Trump administration attempts in December to reach out and engage on the issue of the American hostages held in Tehran.
Babak Namazi, Baquer’s son who lives in Dubai and has publicly advocated for the safe return of his father and brother, told reporters Wednesday that he wants to make sure that his family members’ return remains a high priority for the Trump administration as the relationship between Washington and Tehran takes a turn for the worse.
Babak Namazi, who met with several White House officials earlier Wednesday about his father’s and brother’s continued detention in Iran, was referring to Iranian leaders’ denunciations this week of Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and try to see if there’s a way to re-negotiate it on better terms.
While urging the Trump administration to continue to do everything in its power to secure their release, Namazi avoided any effort to criticize Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action .
Asked repeatedly whether Trump’s decision to pull out of the pact reduces his family’s leverage to win his father’s and brother’s freedom, Namazi said: “From my perspective, I have no views on the JCPOA.”
“All I can say, is the moment the JCPOA happened, this nightmare began for my family,” he said.
Genser noted that Babak Namazi delivered a laminated copy of Trump’s tweet during the campaign in which he pledged that the hostage-taking that took place during the Obama administration, when the Namazis were detained, wouldn’t occur on his watch.
Namazi previously has said it would be extremely helpful to have one person in the Trump administration spearheading the Trump administration efforts to engage Iran and other regimes holding Americans.
“There needs to be a person at the very top who needs to be responsible for these kinds of actions to seek a negotiated resolution,” he told reporters in February.
An attorney for Nizar Zakka, a permanent legal U.S. resident, who was first arrested by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the fall of 2015, issued a statement saying he remains convinced that the Trump administration is doing everything it can to try to secure his clients’ release.
Jason Poblete, the lawyer who represents Zakka, said he had a briefing with senior Trump administration officials on Tuesday about the impact of the JCPOA decision and its impact on American hostages in Iran.
“I’m confident that much is being done by the Trump administration to help secure the unconditional release of Americans and other [U.S. legal permanent residents] unlawfully detained in Iran,” he said in a statement.
“Mr. Zakka and his family deeply appreciate all the U.S. efforts to successfully resolve this humanitarian matter,” he said. “It’s time for Iran and other stakeholders to do the right thing and release Nizar, who should be home with his family, not in Evin.”
Human rights activists also are organizing a vigil set for this Friday night at Princeton University to rally in support of the release of Princeton student, Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen who has been held in Evin prison for nearly two years on what his lawyer says are trumped up espionage charges.
Rep. Chris Smith, (R., N.J.), a leading human rights champion in Congress, is expected to attend the Princeton rally.
“As stakeholders in Washington, D.C. and around the world this week talked about the #IranDeal, also known as the #JCPOA, policymakers must not forget the Americans, [U.S. legal permanent residents], and other innocent persons unlawfully detained in #Iran,” says a Facebook post from the Global Rule of Law & Liberty Legal Defense Fund, which is helping organize the rally.
Obama’s administration had a mixed record on handling American hostage crises overseas. Obama created the position of hostage envoy in 2015 in response to criticism by families of Americans held hostage by terrorist groups that the administration had failed to keep them informed or response to their inquiries.
The family of James Foley, an American beheaded by ISIS, said the Obama administration had threatened legal action if family members chose to try to collect money to pay ISIS ransom for their son.
The family of Kayla Mueller, a humanitarian activist held prisoner by ISIS, also said after her death in February that they were disappointed in the Obama administration’s handling of her years-long detention.
The hostage envoy position Obama created included a “fusion cell” that could serve as a conduit for myriad government agencies’ communications with families.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
The following interview with attorney Jason Poblete aired on TV Martí on May 7, 2018. Based in Alexandria, Virginia, Poblete is part of a team of lawyers trying to clarify the case on an American accused of espionage in Cuba. Since Ms. Miyares was detained and held in Cuba in October 2017, she has been denied consular service by Cuban authorities.
Abogados intentan esclarecer situación de estadounidense acusada de espionaje en Cuba
El doctor Jason Poblete, radicado en Alexandria, estado de Virginia, es parte de un equipo de letrados que trata de esclarecer el caso y pide evidencias al régimen de La Habana. Desde que su cliente fue a prisión en octubre pasado, no ha recibido visita consular.
Statement on the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Secure Release of Hostages in Iran
Zakka Family Appreciates Efforts By President Trump & U.S. Congress
The following statement was made by Nizar Zakka’s attorney in the United States, Mr. Jason Poblete following the announcement of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA:
“After a briefing yesterday with a senior Trump administration official on the JCPOA decision, statements made thereafter, and other briefings we’ve had with U.S. government officials, I’m confident that much is being done by the Trump administration to help to secure the unconditional release of Americans, US LPRs, and others unlawfully detained in Iran. Mr. Zakka and his family deeply appreciate all the U.S. efforts to successfully resolve this humanitarian matter. It’s time for Iran and other stakeholders to do the right thing and release Nizar who should be home with his family, not in Evin.”
Prior Statements and Releases
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri will issue a statement before May 6 condemning Iran for “kidnapping” Lebanese Citizen and U.S. Legal Permanent Resident Nizar Zakka, Mr. Zakka’s brother, said in a statement Saturday. The announcement comes a few days after the U.S. Congress voted 410-2 to approve the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act that called for increased international cooperation in resolving several cases of unlawfully detained persons held in Iran, including Nizar Zakka.
In addition to the economic sanctions, one of the key components of the Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act is that it urges the Trump administration to work with international partners to investigate human rights violations by senior Iranian government officials, regardless of where or when such violations took place.
“Mr. Zakka, his family, friends and supporters are deeeply grateful and thank the U.S. Congress for not forgetting him and other unlawfully detained persons in Iran,” said Jason I. Poblete, Mr. Zakka’s attorney in the United States.
A U.S. Legal Permanent Resident and Lebanese national, Zakka was kidnapped and unlawfully detained after traveling to Iran to attend a state-sponsored conference in Tehran in 2015. At the time of the unlawful detention, Zakka was the secretary-general of IJMA3, an Arab communications organization, and had received an official invitation to visit from an Iranian vice president.
In November 2016, without elaboration, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told reporters in Lebanon that “what happened with Mr. Zakka is not a problem between Iran and Lebanon, seeing as the problem was the violation of the applicable laws in Iran by a foreigner, and the problem is actually between the United States and Iran.”
In addition to ongoing efforts in the United States, the Daily Star of Lebanon reports that the Zakka family has been lobbying the Lebanese government to raise the subject with Iran and criticized ministers for not doing enough to secure Zakka’s release. You can read the entire Daily Star of Lebanon story by following this link.
The Global Liberty Alliance has worked with Mr. Zakka’s counsel in the United States as well as Mr. Zakka’s lawyer in Lebanon. In the United States, Alliance efforts have included raising awareness of Mr. Zakka’s plight with U.S. policymakers such as then-Congressman, now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (see video below).
For more information about Nizar Zakka’s case as well as other Global Liberty Alliance efforts in the United States and Europe, please visit this Global Liberty Alliance website.
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national currently detained in Iran, is in “very bad health,” members of his family said in a statement presented to Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday.
The following article was published by The Daily Star on April 23, 2018. The original version can be read here.
BEIRUT: Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national currently detained in Iran, is in “very bad health,” members of his family said in a statement presented to Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday. Hariri‘s meeting Monday with Maha Zaka and Talal Dunkir, mayor of Zakka‘s hometown Qalamoun, came a day after former Prime Minister Najib Mikati visited Qalamoun where he received a cool welcome Future Movement supporters.
In response to his hostile reception, Mikati told the crowd, “Let Saad Hariri release Nizar Zakka.”
A statement read by Zakka‘s sister, Maha, to Hariri read: “Nizar is in a very bad health situation, and he has been thrown in Evin Prison without committing any offense.”
“By not issuing a public condemnation for a Lebanese citizen official invited [to Iran] and taken hostage, it is as if Lebanon is a collaborator in the crime.”
Evin is one of Iran’s most notorious prisons.
The family called on Lebanese officials to release an official condemnation and to call for Zakka‘s release ahead of Lebanese parliamentary elections slated for May 6.
“Elections should not happen while a Lebanese citizen is oppressed and the government is watching,” the family‘s statement read.
“How can we trust a government that is acting as a facilitator for taking Lebanese hostages to oversee and manage a transparent election?”
It was not immediately clear from the family‘s letter what health problems Zakka has been suffering from, although his attorney previously told the U.S.-based NGO Center for Human Rights in Iran that he may have colon cancer.
Zakka was arrested after traveling to Iran to attend a state-sponsored conference in the capital, Tehran, in 2015.
At the time of his arrest, he was the secretary-general of IJMA3, an Arab communications organization, and had received an official invitation to visit Iran.
Dunkir, mayor of Qalamoun, reiterated the family‘s concerns during the meeting with Hariri.
“We know that Nizar suffers from difficult health conditions, so we are afraid that his health will deteriorate and he will return to us dead,” Dunkir said after the meeting, according to an official statement released by Hariri‘s media office.
Zakka was arrested after traveling to Iran to attend a state-sponsored conference in Tehran in 2015. At the time of his arrest, he was the secretary-general of IJMA3, an Arab communications organization, and had received an official invitation to visit.
His family has been lobbying the government to raise the subject with Iran and criticized ministers for not doing enough to secure Zakka’s release.
On the sidelines of the second day of Brussels II, Hariri held a series of meetings with Arab and international officials.
He met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir at the EU headquarters where they discussed the bilateral ties between both countries, according to a statement from Hariri’s office.
The premier also held talks with Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield in the presence of Nader Hariri, the prime minister’s chief of staff. “They discussed the developments in Lebanon and the region as well as the relations between both countries,” the statement said.
Earlier in the day, Hariri held talks with Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Expansion Negotiations.
This article has been adapted from its original source, published in The Daily Star on April 25, 2018.
The following article was published in Asharq Al Awsat on April 23, 2018. The original version can be read here.
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese detainee currently held in Iran, is in “very bad health,” his family members said in a statement presented to Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday.
PM Hariri received a delegation from the town of Kalamoun, headed by the President of the Municipality Talal Dankar, in the presence of the sister of the Lebanese citizen detained in Iran Nizar Zakka, Maha Zakka.
“We learned that Nizar suffers from difficult health conditions, so we are afraid that his health will deteriorate and that he will return to us dead,” read the statement, which Zakka’s sister, Maha, read to Hariri.
“He has been thrown in Evin Prison without committing any offense.”
Zakka recounted how her family lost contact with her brother who was kidnapped after went to Iran on an official invitation to participate in a conference.
“Even the Lebanese ambassador to Iran is not in contact with him,” she complained, calling on President Aoun and Premier Hariri to do what they can to help bring back Nizar safely from Iran.
After the meeting, Dankar said: “We discussed with Prime Minister Hariri the case of the son of Kalamoun Nizar Zakka, who has been detained for more than two and a half years and is suffering from a difficult and unclear health situation. What we heard from Premier Hariri assured us regarding his detailed follow up on this issue. He told us he will inform us soon about the latest developments in this case and we hoped that this file would end with his safe return.”
Zakka was arrested after traveling to Iran to attend a state-sponsored conference in the capital, Tehran, in 2015. At the time of his arrest, he was the secretary-general of IJMA3, an Arab communications organization, and had received an official invitation to visit Iran.
Statement on the Continued Unlawful Detention of Internet Freedom Advocate Nizar Zakka
Earlier today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee convened to markup H.R. 4744 – Iran Human Rights and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which was passed by the Committee and now goes to the House Floor for a vote. The measure, if passed by the House, would impose additional sanctions with respect to serious human rights abuses of the Government of Iran, and on Iranian officials involved in hostage-taking of U.S. citizens and U.S. Legal Permanent Residents.
On behalf of Mr. Nizar Zakka and his family, Mr. Zakka’s lawyer in the United States, Mr. Jason Poblete, issued the following statement:
“Nizar and his family thank members of the Congress, especially Congressmen McCaul, Deutch, Royce, and Engel, the original cosponsors of the bill, for sending a clear message to the Iranian regime that hostage-taking of U.S. citizens and U.S. Legal Permanent Residents will not go unanswered. Mr. Zakka hopes this action, and the many other efforts by President Trump and his national security team will lead to Nizar’s unconditional release as well as the unconditional release of all unlawfully detained persons in Iran.”
Mr. Zakka traveled to Iran in September 2015, at the invitation of Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Shahindokht Molaverdi, to speak at a conference on the use of technology and the Internet to promote social, economic, and educational development in the region. After the meeting, en route to the airport, Mr. Zakka was taken by persons believed to be associated with the IRGC’s Basij or the intelligence services. Nizar was unlawfully detained on September 18, 2015, the day before the U.S. Congress voted on the JCPOA political agreement between the United States and Iran.
Nizar has been falsely accused of espionage. In a March 2018 statement to the United Nations, Iranian officials, again, falsely accused Nizar of being involved in a “plot for overthrowing the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Despite the pressures, including psychological and physical torture, as well as several hunger strikes, Nizar has maintained his innocence and has refused to sign forced confessions.
The Iranian government has sent mixed signals about Nizar’s case including a statement by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on November 7, 2016 that “[w]hat happened with Mr. Zakka is not a problem between Iran and Lebanon, seeing as the problem was the violation of the applicable laws in Iran by a foreigner, and the problem is actually between the United States and Iran.”
Last year the US Congress approved two Congressional Resolutions urging, among other things, that President Donald Trump make the “release of United States citizens and legal permanent resident aliens held hostage by the Government of Iran the highest of priorities … and that the United States and its allies whose nationals have been detained consider establishing a multinational task force to secure the release of the detainees.”
Prior Statements and Releases
The following interview appeared in Radiofaroda, the Persian language broadcaster at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, on February 10, 2018.
The White House on Wednesday warned Iran that it will be held responsible for the health of 81-year-old American citizen Baquer Namazi, who was recently sent back to prison after medical treatment.
“He remains in urgent need of sustained medical care, and the United States government holds Iran fully accountable for his well-being,” a statement from the White House read.
“The Trump administration again calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all unjustly detained and missing United States citizens in Iran, including Baquer Namazi, his son Siamak Namazi, Xiyue Wang, and Robert Levinson.”
The Namazis were sentenced to 10 years in prison for “espionage and collaboration with the American government” in October — a charge denied by the family and dismissed by US authorities.
In addition to US citizens, Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and permanent resident of the U.S. is also imprisoned in Iran since September 2015.
In an exclusive interview with Nader Sadighi, Radio Farda Senior Correspondent in Washington, Attorney of Mr. Zakka said that his client has been diagnosed for Cancer and needs immediate medical treatment.
In response to first question regarding his client’s condition in prison, Attorney Jason Poblete says Iranian authorities refuse to provide any medical treatment to Nizar: