An American businessman who was released from Iranian prison in a $6billion deal has revealed the ‘psychological torture’ he faced during his five years inside. Emad Shargi, 59, flew home from Iran in September along with four other Americans – he had been imprisoned for 1,975 days, including spells in Iran’s most notorious jail. The deal which secured his release drew criticism for releasing money to Iran, and backlash grew after Hamas – which is largely funded by Iran – attacked Israel just weeks later. The married father of two has now described the ‘dehumanizing’ mental torture he endured, telling CBS ‘being thrown in a cell, it’s the closest you come to death’.
When a fire broke out in Evin prison last September, during riots over the death of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of the morality police – Shargi was trapped in his cell. The fire was spreading around the prison and guards were shooting the rioting prisoners. He said: ‘It was happening a couple of yards from where I was sitting in in my room. Now, if I left, I could be shot. If I stayed, I could suffocate.’ He decided to stay in his cell, where guards found him. He said: ‘They were pale white when they saw me. They were like, “Emad, let’s get the hell out of here.”‘ He believes he was only rescued because he was ‘worth more’ alive than dead. Eight prisoners were killed in the fire and a further 61 were injured. It’s one example of how Shargi said he was treated as a ‘product’ throughout his detention. He said: ‘I realized they don’t want to damage their product’. He believes he was taken to ‘extract a price’ from America as part of what he described as ‘hostage-taking as statecraft’.
The $6billion deal for his release drew Republican criticism that Joe Biden was essentially paying ransom for U.S. citizens. The president came under fire for releasing money to the what the US considers the world’s leading state sponsor of terror. Republican senator Tim Scott said it was ‘a grave mistake that created a market for American hostages, emboldened our adversaries, and put a credit on the balance sheets of one of Hamas’s biggest backers’. Shargi is a dual citizen of the US and Iran. He left Iran when he was 13, but when his two daughters had left for college, he and his wife, Bahareh, decided to return to learn about their heritage. His father warned him against going, telling him: ‘Emad, you don’t know this country. People like you with dual nationalities, they pick these people up once in a while for whatever use they have for them.’
But Shargi didn’t listen. Now he said: ‘If anybody asks me, “In one sentence, what have you learned from this experience,” I would say, “Listen to your dad.”‘ The couple, both in their fifties, spent time in Iran and Shargi worked for a Netherlands company investing in Iranian business. At first, everything was fine, but then just after midnight on April 23 2018, 15 armed agents turned up at their house in Tehran. Shargi said: ‘Gentleman walked in and he said, “This is an arrest warrant for you and for your wife.”‘ Then around 2.30 in the morning ‘the men said: “OK. Get ready. We are taking you.” And my wife said, “No, you can’t take him,” and they told her to sit down and mind her business, that they’ll get to her later. ‘ He was taken away without knowing what was happening to his wife. Shargi was taken to Iran’s most notorious jail, Evin prison, to ward 2A, which is run by the intelligence division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. He said: ‘They took me to a room. They told me to strip naked. They gave me some blue garbs. They told me, “This is the end of the line for you, and most likely you’ll never see the outside world.” “From now on nobody will address you by your name. You are a code now,” 97-0-10 was my code.’
That’s when he says the ‘psychological torture’ began. He said: ‘They take you to a very small room. And then they throw a giant of a human being in there, who proceeds to hit you, to push you around, to threaten to kill you. ‘And then the good cop comes in, and he says, “Look, I can put a stop to this. You just need to confess.” ‘”You have to confess that you are a spy,” which is ludicrous.’ They threatened him with electrical shocks, water-boarding and hanging, but never followed through. Shargi realized they didn’t want to hurt him and lower the price they could get for his release. Some of the interrogations went on for nine hours a day, with nonsensical patterns of ‘mundane’ questioning. He said: ‘The first day they kept asking me, “Why did you go to the White House church?” And I’m just thinking to myself, going, “I know the White House doesn’t have a church.” ‘And then it clicked. They had hacked my Facebook. They had seen the pictures of us attending my daughter’s events at school at the National Cathedral. They had no idea the National Cathedral had nothing to do wa– with the White House. ‘They had my telephone so they had gone through the list of every person I’d ever met during the last 30 years of my business career. “Who are these? Who are those?” These questions would go on day after day after day.’
Eight months later, in December 2018, Shargi was released, and his wife, who had never been arrested, was allowed to return to the US. Shargi expected to be allowed to join her soon. He received a letter of exoneration, but he wasn’t allowed to leave the country. Then in November 2020 his file was sent to the Revolutionary Court and a man known as the ‘hanging judge’ sentenced him to ten years in prison under a statute which prohibits cooperating with foreign states against Iran. His friend hatched a plan to help him escape – people smugglers took him to Iran’s mountainous border with Kurdistan, but just 30 miles from safety, they were caught. Shargi said: ‘I look up. And there is about 15 guys with AK-47 pointing at the car.. They threw me on the ground. And their team leader came.’ They had found him by mistake, they were looking for someone else – but nonetheless, it added to his troubles. He said the second time he was incarcerated, he was ‘interrogated close to 400 hours’. But he never lost faith that the US government would get him out. ‘That was my hope’ he said. His family in the US were campaigning for his release. Shortly after the Evin prison fire last year, Emad’s sister, Neda, met with Iran’s top diplomat to the UN, to find out what was holding up a prisoner deal. Neda said: ‘We’re dealing with innocent human lives, and we want to rectify the situation. But for other people, it’s politics and it’s power. And they get in the way.’
After two years of on-off negotiations the US and Iran reached a complex deal. The US agreed to release $6billion of Iranian money that had been held in a South Korean account for years due to US sanctions. The money is Iranian oil revenue that was frozen when the Trump administration placed a total ban on Iran’s oil exports. Under the deal, Iran will be able to use the money to pay for humanitarian goods like food and medicine, and the US has to approve the transactions. They also released five Iranians accused of non-violent crimes. In return, five Americans, including Shargi, were released and flown home via Qatar. Shargi said: ‘I hadn’t seen my daughters for five and a half, six years. I had missed all their graduations, birthdays, anniversaries with my wife. It’s like being born again. We had thought we were going to be freed so many times, and this was it.’ Now his advice to any American is ‘do not go to Iran’. Less than three weeks after Shargi’s release, Hamas, which is financially backed by Iran, attacked Israel. Some US lawmakers called for the $6billion to be blocked in response.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said : ‘Let’s be honest with the American people and understand that Hamas knows, and Iran knows they’re moving money around as we speak, because they know $6 billion is going to be released. That’s the reality.’ The White House insists no money has been released to Iran so far. Because of due diligence requirements related to the swap, ‘it will take many months for Iran to spend down this money,’ a State Department spokesperson said. ‘And, as we’ve said many times, it can only be used to purchase food, medicine, medical devices, and agricultural products for the people of Iran.’ Businessman Siamak Namazi, 51, was released along with Shargi, he had spent nearly eight years confined to Evin prison. Environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, was also released, he had been arrested in 2018 and accused of espionage, which he denies. The two other Americans who were released have chosen to remain anonymous. Read the full story: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12661999/American-Emad-Shargi-freed-6bn-Iran-prisoner-swap-reveals-harrowing-mental-torture-FIVE-years-grim-jail-held-extract-price.html?ito=msngallery
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