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Siamak Namazi's brother welcomes him home after 8 years of captivity in Iran

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you were watching for any sign that the U.S.-Iran prisoner swap might crack open the door to improved relations between the two countries, you would not have found it at the United Nations yesterday. President Raisi of Iran addressed the diplomats gathered for the U.N. General Assembly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EBRAHIM RAISI: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: But he spoke not of diplomacy, but of revenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAISI: (Non-English language spoken).

KELLY: Revenge for the 2020 killing by the U.S. of a top Iranian general. Well, this was a strikingly different scene from the one that played out earlier in the day on the tarmac at Fort Belvoir, Va. Five Americans detained for years in Iran stepped off a plane and back onto U.S. soil. Among them, Siamak Namazi, the longest-held U.S. citizen in Iran, detained since 2015 or, as Namazi put it in a statement he released during that long trip back to the U.S., 2,898 days of what should have been the best days of my life stolen from me. Well, when he stepped off that plane yesterday, his brother Babak was there to greet him. And Babak Namazi joins me now. Welcome.

BABAK NAMAZI: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Describe that moment as you were waiting on the tarmac. Were you practicing in your head what you would say to your brother?

NAMAZI: It's beyond description what someone goes through as that moment they've been waiting for eight years finally arrives. I kept feeling this is yet another dream that I'm having, and I was just horrified that I'm going to wake up from it. So it was really just elation and gratitude and disbelief all combined together.

KELLY: What were his words, his first words to you, if I may ask?

NAMAZI: There were no words. It was us just rushing towards our loved ones and grabbing and holding them for dear life. And again, it's something I cannot describe, that feeling I've never, ever experienced when you finally get to hug someone you've been struggling to get out for the past eight years and you finally get to do it.

KELLY: And how's he doing? He's off now for medical exams and just to check that everything's all well?

NAMAZI: Yeah, I think, like the rest of us, and I imagine the rest of the hostages, they're also in disbelief. I mean, until hours and hours ago, they were hostages for many years. And then all of a sudden, they weren't. All of us are waiting for our brains to catch up with that reality.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, and for your family especially, because I want to note that your father, Baquer Namazi, was also held in Iran for years. And I wanted to ask about the conditions in which they were held. I was surprised - this is back in February - to notice that your brother, from inside Evin Prison in Tehran, was tweeting out an interview that I had done with Iran's foreign minister. I guess I didn't realize that news would reach him there and that he was able to tweet it out from the inside.

NAMAZI: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, one thing that I think made me survive this - I mean, let alone Siamak, who obviously was going through this hell - was Siamak's courage and resilience, and his desire to push back and make sure that he doesn't make easy for the hostage-takers. And one thing for him was to be - try to be his own voice as much as possible. So, yes, he had access to - when I say access to a Twitter account, not directly, obviously. They don't have internet access in there. So, you know, it was an account that was controlled by us and his lawyers.

KELLY: OK, so this is you reaching him on a phone in the prison and him reacting and then you being able to communicate for him?

NAMAZI: Yeah. And I have to tell you, every single time that he was doing these things, I tried to discourage him because I just feared. I was always fearful. And then he said, Babak, I'm in here. What else can they do to me that they haven't done to me? And it's so important for me to be my own voice as well. He was surrounded by evil forces, and yet he was more courageous than I was.

KELLY: While celebrating, of course, we'll have heard some of the criticism of this deal, of this prisoner swap, that it will only encourage more hostage-taking by Iran and that it - a deal like this will extend a lifeline to the ruling establishment there. What do you make of that criticism?

NAMAZI: I'm not sure what to make out of that criticism. You know, 3,000 days - close to 3,000 days is how many days Siamak was held in horrific conditions. About two-thirds of that was for my father. Can you just imagine anyone who criticizes family members to be reunited? Just imagine for one moment what it's like to be, you know, torn away from your family members. I...

KELLY: Well, and to be clear, I don't think the criticism is being directed at families.

NAMAZI: No, I know it's not.

KELLY: It's being directed at the U.S. for American policy.

NAMAZI: I'm sure. I'm not a politician. I'm sure the president made a very, very difficult decision, but a decision that was well-reasoned. And I'm grateful for it, that he made that courageous decision, what it took. But my heart goes out to whoever is, you know, in Iran still and in other prisons, other Americans elsewhere. You know, we have a duty to do all we can to bring hostages home.

KELLY: It does prompt one more question. I was thinking about your family when I listened to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on Monday giving a very clear warning to U.S. citizens. And the warning was, do not travel to Iran. U.S. citizens should not travel to Iran for any reason. People should, of course, travel wherever they wish. But is there an argument to be made that people with dual citizenship, people like your family, should think very hard about that?

NAMAZI: I mean, we thought these warnings was for other people. You know, we haven't done anything wrong. You know, you have extended routes, you know, originally being from Iran, and of course, relatives and heritage. I don't know what to say to that. We're examples of what happens when you think everything's going to be fine until it's not.

KELLY: Once he's cleared by the doctors, once he's done whatever paperwork awaits him, what does your brother plan to do first?

NAMAZI: (Laughter) I mean, I think he's going to do silly things and serious things. He wants to breathe the fresh air. I mean, I was astonished when I saw, like, you know, live pictures of him getting off the plane like everyone else did. And I could tell that he's just taking that first deep breath of freedom. I think it's just enjoy the very, very simple things we all take for granted every second and every day. It's to just walk around. It's not to be in a room with 25 other people. It's going to bed when he wants to. It's to eat what he wants. It's to talk to whomever and whatever he wants. It's to have juicy burgers, you know, just to be a human being again.

KELLY: Babak Namazi. His brother, Siamak Namazi, was held for eight years in Iran. He is one of five Americans freed this week in a controversial prisoner swap. Thank you.

NAMAZI: No problem at all. I'm always grateful to be on the show, especially on this occasion, to be talking about my brother's release and not what we need to do to get him out. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Karen Zamora
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.