Yesterday, on June 25, 2020, evangelical Pastor Ramón Rigal Rodríguez, of Guantánamo, Cuba, was released after over a year of unlawful imprisonment. Pastor Rigal and his wife, Adya Expósito, were sentenced in May 2019 to two and one-and-a-half years of prison for homeschooling their children.
In close collaboration with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in Purcellville, Virginia, and with Cuban religious leaders, the Global Liberty Alliance (GLA) has been advocating for the release of the Rigal parents since their trial. In late April 2019, the GLA and the HSLDA petitioned the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for precautionary measures to protect the Rigal family and press Cuba to release them.
While the Rigal family is finally reunited, as Radio Televisión Martí has said, the reporter who covered their trial, GLA client Roberto Quiñones, is still unjustly imprisoned. You can find more information about GLA’s advocacy for the Rigal-Expósito family here. GLA is committed to defending fundamental rights, such as freedom of religion and of belief.
You can learn more about GLA’s work on our Facebook page or our Twitter account.
On April 16, the Global Liberty Alliance (GLA) called for the Cuban government to free Roberto Quiñones, imprisoned journalist, poet, and lawyer, to the custody of his family. GLA issued this statement in support of Mr. Quiñones's family, who are no longer be able to visit him in prison because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and are concerned for his health.
Days After Cuba Closes Schools, Mother Serves Out Sentence for Homeschooling
Today, March 27, 2020, Ayda Expósito Leyva, a Guantánamo pastor, wife of Pastor Ramón Rigal Rodríguez, and mother of two, was released from a yearlong prison sentence for having home-schooled her children. Her husband remains in prison until 2021. GLA is fighting against Cuba’s weak rule of law on behalf of the Rigal family; read our press release on the matter below.
MADRE QUE EDUCA EN EL HOGAR SALE DE LA CÁRCEL
Escuelas cubanas cerradas, la madre completó sanción por educar en casa
Al día de hoy, el 27 de marzo de 2020, Ayda Expósito Leyva, pastora protestante de Guantánamo, esposa del Pastor Ramón Rigal Rodríguez y madre de dos hijos, fue liberada, tras 11 meses de cárcel por haber educado a sus hijos en el hogar. Su esposo se queda en prisión hasta el 2021. GLA sigue luchando contra el flojo imperio de la ley en Cuba por la familia Rigal; lea nuestro comunicado de prensa sobre el asunto a continuación.
From March 6 to early March 14, 2020, two Ladies in White were detained and held in jail without cause, and prevented from having visitors. See below for more details:
Desde el 6 hasta el 14 de marzo, dos Damas de Blanco fueron detenidas, encarceladas y alejadas de visitas, sin causa alguna. Véase el documento a continuación para más detalles:
Alexandria, Virginia – For several weeks, the Communist government of Cuba and the party apparatus have ruthlessly targeted Cuban opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (“UNPACU”). Unlawfully detained on October 1, 2019, Mr. Ferrer has since been subjected to all forms of torture.
With the support of Mr. Ferrer’s family and a coalition that represents a large cross-section of Cuba’s opposition movement, the Global Liberty Alliance (“GLA”) requested that the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights of the Organization of American States press the Cuban government to adopt precautionary measures to protect the lives of Mr. Ferrer and his other UNPACU colleagues who have been unlawfully detained in Cuba for weeks.
Attached is the complete press release with supporting documentation.
Zakka Family Appreciates Continued Support Of The U.S. Government
Yesterday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo delivered remarks at the Department of State to families of American citizens and U.S Legal Permanent residents held captive abroad. Mr. Omar Zakka, the youngest son of Mr. Nizar Zakka, who last month testified before Congress a second time about his father’s case, was at the State Department for meetings with senior U.S. officials including Secretary of State of Mike Pompeo.
“On behalf of my father and the rest of the Zakka family, I thanked Secretary Pompeo and his team for what they are doing to help bring my dad home. I am confident if Lebanon were to fully help the United States, my father would be home. Lebanon and all parties in a position to do so should follow the example of the Trump administration and help my father,” Omar said.
Mr. Nizar Zakka was in Iran at the invitation of the Iranian government, a guest of the former Vice President Shahindokht Molaverdi. Upon information and belief, Mr. Zakka was unlawfully detained and kidnapped on September 18, 2015, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); and it is probable Mr. Zakka’s abduction was orchestrated to coincide on or about September 17, the last day of the U.S. Congressional review period of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The following press release was issued by Mr. Zakka’s US Attorney following yesterday’s events.
Secretary Pompeo’s remarks can be viewed below.
Earlier today, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism held a hearing titled, “The Status of American Hostages in Iran.” Mr. Omar Zakka, the youngest son of Mr. Nizar Zakka, testified before the Committee on Nizar’s ongoing unlawful detention.
Statement on U.S. Congressional Hearing to Secure Release of Hostages in Iran
Zakka Family Appreciates Continued Support Of The U.S. Congress
The Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism held a hearing today, The Status of American Hostages in Iran. Mr. Omar Zakka, the youngest son of Mr. Nizar Zakka, testified before the Committee. Mr. Zakka is a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident and U.S.-based ICT professional who has been held hostage in Iran since 2015.
“We ask this government to take all available legal and diplomatic measures to reunite us with our father. We ask this government to do the same for all the families of the other hostages. Help us reunite with our father,” Omar told members of the committee this afternoon. His testimony is available at the Committee website.
The Middle East, North Africa, and International Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) is a long-time human rights champion and has been working for several years to secure the release of Americans and U.S. LPRs unlawfully detained in Iran and elsewhere. Rep. Deutch in his opening remarks stated:
“Iran’s despicable practice of holding American’s and other foreign nationals hostage should not be tolerated by any responsible nation.” He went on to discuss Mr. Zakka’s case emphasizing his unjust detainment. “Nizar is an IT professional who was invited to Iran to participate in an IT conference. Let me say that again. He was invited to the country. And then detained.”
Chairman Deutch and Ranking Member Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) announced at today’s hearing a number of Congressional proposals to strengthen U.S. hostage policy including the ‘‘Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act of 2019.” A Congressional resolution has also been introduced on Iran hostages.
“This is the second time Omar has presented his dad’s case to the Congress and, frankly, Omar hopes it will be the last time. As many as 12 nations appear to have foreigners unlawfully deprived of liberty in Iran. Nizar’s case and others like it are an international problem that requires multilateral cooperation, including nations in a position to help such as Lebanon. Talks based solely on humanitarian issues should be established with Iran to help Nizar and other hostages. With political will it’s possible to bring him home soon,” said Jason Poblete, Mr. Nizar Zakka’s attorney in the United States.
Follow this link for more information about the hearing, including Omar’s testimony and video clips of the hearing.
The following article was published in The Washington Free Beacon on October 2. The original publication can be found here.
The families of American citizens and dual nationals with strong Western ties held for years in Iran joined forces and met for the first time last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting to press international diplomats for their release.
The family members agreed to team up and press the Trump administration and key European officials to help amplify and coordinate their message.
The action came after trying to work individually and complying with their governments’ advice not to work together in the hope that private efforts to lobby the Iranian government would pay off with the release of their loved ones.
Among the family members at the meeting was Sarah Moriarty, daughter of Robert Levinson, the longest-held hostage in U.S. history, assuming he is alive, and a former Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI agent who disappeared in 2007 in Kish Island, Iran.
During the gathering with family members in New York last week, Moriarity grew emotional, lamenting that there are no recent clues or news angles to sell to the media to raise more awareness about her father’s disappearance but committing to continuing trying to seek his release and work with other families on a coordinated strategy.
“We’ve been through three American administrations … he’s 70 years old and he’s had no contact with anyone, no one from our family for the last 11 years, not anyone that he loves—no human touch,” she said. “These are violations of the most basic human rights … he has missed three weddings including my own and the birth of five grandchildren, including two of my own.”
“There needs to be more accountability and repercussions for the government of Iran,” she said. “If he is still alive … we need to move. Every day that we lose is another day that he is getting older. We don’t know how much longer we have.”
Moriarty added that “we do not want to face an Otto Warmbier situation.” Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was arrested while visiting North Korea as a tourist in 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda poster from his hotel, was detained in North Korea for a year and a half and died last June just days after he returned home in a coma.
Moriarty and her brother, David Levinson, along with other family members of those detained in Iran, met with several U.S. officials during the United Nations General Assembly meeting. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton, while at the U.N. summit, both repeated U.S. calls for Iran to locate Robert Levinson and enable him to return to the United States.
Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian charity worker for Thomson Reuters Foundation, also participated in the meeting with family members as a way to utilize every strategy and combine efforts to try to secure the safe return of his wife, who has been held in Iran for two and a half years.
“We don’t normally say Nazanin is a hostage, [though] I do talk about her being a bargaining chip,” Ratcliffe wrote in an article posted by the Foundation on Thursday. “She hasn’t done anything . And actually … [she is a] state-held hostage. The U.K. needs to do something.”
Many other family members of Western-linked foreigners or Iranian dual nationals have long accused Tehran of trying to use their loved one’s imprisonment as a way to extract monetary concessions from the U.S. government or their families or as a bargaining chip in disputes with the U.S.
Human Rights Watch on Wednesday said it had documented the cases of 14 Iranian dual or foreign national that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has arrested since 2014. Amnesty International puts the number at 15, including Iranian-Americans Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer Namazi, Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, and Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national and permanent U.S. resident.
Nadim Zakka, his son, recalled how an Iranian official, a member of Iranian President Rouhani’s cabinet, had invited Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, to attend a conference in Iran in the fall of 2016. After participating in the conference and taking photos with several Iranian officials, members of the IRGC “kidnapped” him on his way to the airport, his son recalled.
Zakka said his father has begun his sixth hunger strike and is enduring life in an underground, rat- and cockroach-infested cell, where he does not see sunlight, with 50 other people.
“His captor may want to take his dignity but as long as he has his mind and body, he will fight,” Nadim Zakka said during the meeting with the other families.
Wang’s wife, Hua Qu, said she her husband, a Princeton University graduate student, had approval from the Iranian government to visit and study in the country. That did not prevent him from being arrested and thrown in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, she said.
Hua Qu recalled how her son just started kindergarten this month and drew a picture of their family, which included his father—something that has not occurred over the past year.
She said the picture showed them in snow and snowsuits and recalled how the last day the three were together in January 2016 it was a snowy day.
“A lot of times I think my son doesn’t remember his dad, but [in the picture] he is wearing the same snow suit as his dad. That actually gives me strength, and I will keep up the effort until my husband comes home.”
“This is the first time I’ve come to UNGA,” she said. “The families have never been united—this is the first time. I do this for my husband and my young son.”
“People asked me to keep silent a whole year and every single month, I hoped I would see some news … and they would quietly release him, but it didn’t happen,” she said.
Ali Rezaian, the brother of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, was also on hand last week to share his story with the families of other prisoners held in Iran. Jason was jailed and released in January 2017 as part of a prisoner swap with Iran and the payment of $1.7 billion to Tehran by the U.S. government to settle an old dispute.
Rezaian said the families’ decision to come together is a great unifying step that will help them gain power in numbers. He also argued that the family members continue to push their governments to recognize their condition and speak openly about their imprisonment in Iran.
“A lot of times there’s hope that Iran will come to their senses, and that never happens. And it’s incumbent on families and other government involved to take as much information into consideration as possible and take a clear position and work through it,” he said.
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.”
Support Global Liberty Alliance efforts to help secure the release of Americans and others held hostage by Iran and other nations!
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.
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.