Jan. 19, 2022

Free Jamshid Sharmahd, German citizen and US resident held hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Free Jamshid Sharmahd, German citizen and US resident held hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

Jamshid Sharmahd is a German citizen and US resident. He and his family have lived in California for the last 17 years. In July 2020, Jamshid was kidnapped in Dubai by agents of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and taken to Iran where he is still being held today. The EU Parliament adopted a resolution in July 2021 urging Iran to immediately drop all charges against all arbitrarily detained EU nationals including Jamshid. Amnesty International has stated that he is being arbitrarily detained and has called for his immediate release. On this episode, we have the honour of speaking to Gazelle Sharmahd, Jamshid’s daughter.

Gazelle talks about what happened to her father, his serious health issues, not knowing how he is doing as Jamshid hasn’t been allowed to contact his family, Iran’s notoriously unfair and rigged judicial system, her father’s background, previous assassination attempts as well as how this ongoing trauma has impacted her family. We also discuss the support the Sharmahd family has received from the German and US governments to date, what these governments need to do better to bring Jamshid home, the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal negotiations currently taking place in Vienna, her open letter to US President Biden with other American hostage families as well as how journalists and members of the public can help.

If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube

For more information on Jamshid Sharmahd, please check out the following:

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Transcript

Free Jamshid Sharmahd, German citizen and US resident held hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy

SPEAKERS

Daren Nair, Gazelle Sharmahd

 

Daren Nair  00:05

Welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Together with their families, we share their stories every week, and let you know how you can help bring them home. I'm Daren Nair, and I've had the honour of campaigning with many of these families for years. These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us, people who have never given up hope, people who will never stop working to reunite their families. And we will be right there by their side until their loved ones are back home. Thank you for joining us. And now, let's meet this week's guest. Jamshid Sharmahd is a German citizen and a US resident. He and his family live in California. In July 2020, Jamshid was kidnapped in Dubai by agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and taken to Iran, where he is still being held today. His life is in imminent danger for the following reasons. He is currently at risk of being given a death penalty and being executed by the Iranian regime. And he suffers from diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson's disease. The Iranian authorities are not giving Jamshid the medical care he needs, and if he contracts COVID-19, he could die. The EU Parliament adopted a resolution in July 2021 that urges Iran to immediately drop all charges against all arbitrarily detained EU nationals, including German national, Jamshid Sharmahd. Amnesty International, the human rights charity, has stated he's being arbitrarily detained and has called for his immediate release. Wenzel Mikalski, the German director of Human Rights Watch, has called on the German Foreign Ministry to secure Jamshid Sharmahd's release. Iran has a long history of unjustly detaining foreign nationals and dual nationals. This is state-sponsored hostage-taking. This is what we call hostage diplomacy. We are joined today by Jamshid's daughter, Gazelle Sharmahd, who is speaking to us from California. Gazelle, we're so sorry for what you, your father and your family are going through. Thank you for joining us.

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  02:27

Thank you so much for having me, Daren. Thanks for giving me the time.

 

Daren Nair  02:31

You're welcome. Can you walk us through what happened to your father?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  02:36

Yeah, what happened to him is still a shock to all of us. It's... it somehow sounds more like out of a movie scene than real life. In 2020, beginning of 2020, my dad went on a business trip. We live here in California, he went on a business trip over... He was supposed to go to India for a short time and to Germany. He is a software engineer by trade. And he was going to get new contracts over there. As we all know, the pandemic happened. And in the beginning of March, when he had his trip, he was supposed to be three weeks and back. He went to India with my brother. And the pandemic happened and India... the complete country shut down. They shut their borders. And they announced that they will reopen in a few weeks. And they didn't reopen. And then they announced that again and again, over and over, and my dad and my brother were stuck there for almost three months. Once the borders opened, my dad and my brother took the first flight that they can afford. Flights were super-expensive at that time. The first flights that they can afford, went from Dubai, to Amsterdam, and then from Amsterdam, they were supposed to come back to the United States. My brother was allowed to board the flight. And my dad was not allowed to. The reason is that my brother is a permanent resident of the United States, and my dad lived here on a visa, and visa holders, because of the pandemic, were not allowed back into the country. So, they told him there, "go to the country of your citizenship, which is Germany, and go to the Embassy there and go to the Consulate and try to get your visa approved again to re-entry into the country, so you can join your family," and this is what he did. At that time, I think it was June or July, that he went back to Germany, and they would not give him an appointment right away. Like, the appointments were, like, far in advance, like month in advance. And he already wasted so much time in India and making so much debt, you know, like living in his hotel and, like, trying to get medication over there and all of those things that people had to deal with during the pandemic. And so, he decided he would go back to India because the country opened back up, and he would go back to his business partners and start, at least, making some money while waiting for an appointment at the Consulate. The first flight that he was able to get went from Frankfurt in Germany to Dubai. And then from Dubai, he was supposed to take another flight. There were no direct flights at that time. It was very hard to get direct flights. They were very expensive and very rare. So, he went to Dubai and then from there, he was supposed to go back to Mumbai. July 28th, if I'm not mistaken, was the last time that my mom talked to him in his hotel room via video chat. So, he... she was able to see him. Since she saw that he's in Dubai, she was wondering, "why are you there? I thought you're going back to Mumbai." And he said, "yeah, just catching another flight here. I'm going to be here for a few days and then taking the next flight is coming up." That was the last time she saw him. And she knows she was... he was well. They have been talking every single day either through video chat or through text messages or calls through the time that he was there in the pandemic. And after this video call, there was complete radio silence. My dad would not answer his phone, he would not respond to any of the text messages, he would not respond to the phone calls or anything. We did not know where he was or what was happening to him for two days. After two days, my mom received a message, just plain text message, saying, "I'm okay. I will call you, or I will... I will... I will contact you," in Persian. And that was already a very big warning sign, because my dad would not just ignore all of her phone calls and, like, the voice... with a... with a blunt text message. The very next day, which was August 1st, we were woken up by friends and family members that told us, "turn on the news. Go on YouTube, you can see a clip there of... of your husband." That's what they told my mom. And she went on YouTube, and she saw that clip that everybody has seen now, my dad in the hands of the Islamic regime, blindfolded, stating his name, forced to commit [confess] to crimes that he did not commit, that he did not do. And that's how we found out where he apparently was, that he had been kidnapped, that he had been somehow taken to Iran, which we assumed that still nobody has explained that to us. But that's when we found out. And at that time, I was a nurse working here in the hospital during the pandemic. We had a lot of stress here. I was pregnant with my first baby, five months pregnant at that time. My family first did not want to tell me, but they figured, "we have to let her know." So, the shock of seeing my dad there, I will never forget that. We thought that my dad was dead at that moment when we saw this video, because it looked like one of those videos that Hezbollah shows before they do a beheading or something looked very like... like... like a death sentence pretty much. And I'll explain that a little bit later on. The backstory of my dad is also that the Islamic Regime tried in the last ten years to assassinate him several times. And so, when we saw this video, we were 99% sure that this was the last time we will see my dad. This was not the... this was the end of it. He... they had him. They showed him on TV, and now he was dead somewhere. And we cried and we cried. And then we got ourselves together. And we thought, "okay, we have to do something now. We can't just sit here and wait." And nobody was explaining anything to us. Like there is no way that you can contact the Islamic regime and ask if your loved one is there, if he was taken, like, not nothing. We're not... we knew nothing, but that he was in Dubai in his hotel room and then that radio silence and then, all of a sudden, he was on TV with that video. So, we assumed he's in Iran. And we contacted the German Embassy, because he's a German national. We're all German nationals. We contacted anybody here in America that we could find, lawyers, everything that... politicians, US, I don't know, government officials, any... anybody that we could think of, NGOs. I opened my first Twitter account at that time. I didn't have a Twitter account and started just blurting stuff out like, "hey, this is what happened to my dad. We need help. We don't know what's going on." And that's how it started. And now it has been over 500 days that he has been kept there as a hostage. He has been in horrible condition because, first of all, he is isolated. He is not in the prison with other people. Every time he is allowed to call, he tells us there's nobody there, he's by himself. So, that's... that's isolation for 500-plus days. He is, of course, sick, he has severe Parkinson's. That's why my brother went with him. Like he... he's very, very sick. He needs his medication on time every three hours. I don't know if they're providing him his medication. He gets very bad pains in his body when he doesn't get it on time. I don't know if they're providing him any food. I don't know if he has access to outside, if he can see anybody, if he can see doctors. He does not get access to a lawyer. We cannot get our lawyer through to him. They're giving him regime lawyers that are absolutely against his case. And... and in this last year, I think he was able to call us two times or three times if I'm not mistaken. I did not speak to him since I think March, March of 2021. And this is not... this is not a prisoner. A prisoner has rights. The prisoner is allowed to make phone calls. A prisoner is under arrest for a certain charge. There is no charges against him. There is no... there is nothing against him. Nobody tells us what he has done, why he is there, where he is. So, this is an ongoing kidnapping and... and hostage-taking. And I can't believe it's taking so long and we have reached nothing. But we really need help. And we need to get moving with this.

 

Daren Nair  11:17

I'm so sorry you and your family are going through this, Gazelle.

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  11:21

Thank you. Thank you.

 

Daren Nair  11:23

You mentioned that there were issues with the lawyer. So, you had to use what you call a regime lawyer. Now, Iran's judicial system is notoriously unfair and rigged. Can you just elaborate further on what you mean by a regime lawyer? And so what are the consequences of this to your father?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  11:45

Yes. This was... this was news to us, too. I mean, like we heard, of course, I didn't grow up in Iran. But we heard that the judicial system was... was rigged, and you have some understanding of it. But once you're in it, and you need to get through it, you just see how messed up the system is. So, first thing that we tried to do was get a lawyer, any kind of lawyer on his case. We asked the German Embassy. They gave us a list of lawyers that they worked with before and that they thought we could contact. We started contacting them, and 99% of them said they cannot take his case, because it's a danger to them. So, you have to imagine a country where you, as a lawyer, you cannot represent anybody, because if the regime doesn't like your client that you're representing, they're gonna put you into prison. They're gonna charge you, they're gonna maybe assassinate you, they're gonna do something to you personally. So, you cannot take a case because you're afraid for your life. So, that was the first thing that we were like, "okay." And then the ones that were willing to take his case, or were brave enough to take his case, or were strong enough to take his case, said, "we're not allowed on his... on his case." We didn't understand that. And then one of the lawyers spelled it out for me and said there is a list of lawyers that are working with the government, I call them regime lawyers. And they are only approved to take certain cases, which are called security cases, and my dad falls into a security case. And those... those lawyers work with the government, the government that took my dad, and those are the only people who can represent him. So, you know, that is no proper representation. We said we don't want any of those. We... we finally got a lawyer that would take his case. and we... we sent her to the prison. She was told the first time that he is not there. Jamshid Sharmahd doesn't exist in this prison. She went right to Evin Prison where most of the political prisoners are kept. The next time she was told he is there, but she doesn't have access. Then they told her again, he's not there. He's in a different prison. He's not even in Iran. They kept changing the story and not getting her any access. And one of the few phone calls that my dad was allowed, he told us that they put a lawyer on his case, that lawyer was Dabir Daryabeigi, regime lawyer, which was also the regime lawyer that defended Ruhollah Zam. By defended I mean, he got him the death sentence, and he was executed a few months after my dad was taken. So, we did not want this guy on this case. We talked to my dad, we told him what happened to Ruhollah Zam. And he said, "I don't want this guy." Thankfully, that guy was taken off the case. The next regime lawyer that they put on the case, his name was [name unclear]. And again, we said, "we don't want... we don't want a regime lawyer on that case." The only thing that they do is they work with the regime together, to get you to sign away your life, like admit to any kinds of crimes, and they tell you that they're going to make a deal... they're gonna... they know the... the judge... they gonna get you out of here. They're gonna get you a better sentence if you just commit [confess] to these crimes, or if you just go on this show, and they made some shows with him, where he's... where he's standing there. And he's... he's admitting to crimes and all that kind of propaganda that is involved in that. And as a reward, they give you a good deal, which is usually not a good deal, just a way to get you to the death sentence. So again, we explained that to my dad, and my dad said, "take him off the case." And we tried to take him off the case, but this guy does not want to get off the case. In fact, my dad would not call us for, I think, three months. And in the last phone call that we had when this regime lawyer was on the case, he had a very heavy cough. So, we were very worried that he might have gotten COVID in... in this time, and he would not call us. My mom was very worried. So, she called this regime lawyer. And she told him, "are... are you able to see my husband? Do you know where he is? Is he alive? Can you get access to him? And can you make him call us?" And he said, "yes." And sure enough, my dad called, and he was okay. And he did not have COVID. And he sounded a bit better. My mom called this lawyer again, just to thank him like, "thank you for going there and making him call us." And that's when he told her, "well, by the way, I'm his lawyer. I'm on his case. And his case is very long. It's ten files long." And my mom asked him, "what are the charges?" And he said, "well, I can't tell you, I haven't looked through it." And she said, "why haven't you looked at it?" "Well, it's too big of a case. All I can do is stand next to him in court and try to defend him. But if you want me to spend any more time and go through his case, and really build a defence, I need... I need a team, and I need $250,000 from you to do that." So, $250,000, we don't make that much in a year. I don't. I know surgeons that don't make that much in a year in America. And this guy wanted that, just to do his job, which we don't even want him to do. We didn't even want him on the case. The regime put him on the case; my dad doesn't want him on the case. And now that he is on the case, and he claims to be the only person having access to him and being able to get him to call us, he wanted $250,000 from us just to do his job, just to look through his file, just to build the defence. So, I don't know if you can see, but this system is more than messed up. This system is... there is no justice in it. There... It's not a justice system. It's a joke to call this a justice system. It's just a facade. It's just something that they put up there. The only hope that we have and why we're even talking to this lawyer is they told us, in the trial phase, when this goes to trial, the regime has to allow any lawyer on the case. So, if we can get these lawyers off the case, and my dad makes it to the trial, we can get an independent lawyer on the case who can go and see him. And that's the only thing we want, somebody to go and see him, he doesn't need even a defence. We haven't seen our dad for... since 2000, since the beginning of 2000. We want somebody to go there and see him and physically check him and see if he's okay, if he's been tortured. Where in the world he is, which facility he's at. So, that's why you want a lawyer there, not even to do any justice, not even to defend him, just to go and physically see him.

 

Daren Nair  18:28

Sorry, you mentioned you haven't seen your dad since 2000. Which... you're talking 2021? 2020?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  18:34

Er, sorry, 2020. Yes, that's what I meant, 2020, when he first... when he first went on the... his business trip to India.

 

Daren Nair  18:45

Okay, now I understand. So, to understand why this is happening to your father, can you talk to us a bit about your father's background, because I know that your family fled Iran in 1983 and migrated to Germany. In 2003, your family moved to California, which is where you live now. As you said earlier, there was an assassination attempt. So, I read this from your website, freesharmahd.org, in 2009, there was an assassination attempt on your father, and according to the information on that website, the assassin got cold feet and turned himself in. So, obviously there is a backstory to this. Can you just elaborate further?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  19:31

Yes. Without going too much into detail, I can tell you that my family has always been politically active. They have always been defenders of human rights. They've always been very outspoken. And when I was born after the Revolution, they decided to put that on hold for a while, because they had a family now and because, as you know, it is dangerous as parents to be politically active Iranians, being politically active, whether you're inside the country or outside the country. There have been assassinations from the regime all over Europe. And they decided while their children grow up, they're going to be just parents, stay out of politics as much as they can and raise us safely, which they did. By the time we were in our teens and twenties, my dad decided to move to America. And when he came over here, we were having a normal life in the beginning. And then he started to be interested in politics again, because he just put that on hold for some time, while his children were growing up. The community here in LA, the Persian community is really big. They're like lots of TV stations, sort of politically active people here. And he looked at everything and... and he found a group that he was very interested in the... it was Frood Fouldvand back then, with the... it's called Anjoman-e Padeshahi-ye, which is the Kingdom Assembly of Iran. So, he was following them. They had a TV station, he was listening to them, and he got very interested. Since by trade, he is a software engineer, he offered them to create a website for them. And all of their material that they were publishing on TV, he was able to put it on the website and, like, pretty much have an archive of everything over there. That's how it started for him. The founder of this group disappeared in the early 2000s. We assume that he was taken hostage; he was kidnapped somehow. I don't want to go too much into detail because nothing is clear about that case, either. My dad, having that website built for them, was at that time still anonymous. Nobody knew that it was my dad. He built the website, he put it on his portal, he put it on his server. We don't know if it was a security glitch back then, or if it was cyber attacked or something, but the name of the server got exposed. And the name of the server is my dad's company, Sharmahd Computing. So, therefore his name, Sharmahd, was exposed, and my dad was no longer anonymous and anonymously political. At that time, we were in big, big shock, because me and my mom were actually about to go to Iran, to travel to Iran and see some of her family members over there. We knew that we were in great danger. The regime announced on national TV that my dad, and this group is enemy of the state, and they're the number one enemy there. They asked America for his extradition. And we knew we could no longer go to Iran and visit our family. We knew we were in danger over here, and my dad knew that. But I don't know if you knew my dad, he always got into... when he got into really bad situations, he would try to turn it to the best, like instead of, like being desperate, and what we did, and we were crying, about not seeing our family, he said, "well, now that I'm exposed, I might as well use my face to help these people." So he went public, and he opened a satellite radio station, Tondar, Radio Tondar. He was speaking on that radio station on behalf of this group, he was publishing news, he was putting like, all of their stuff on there, uncensored, nothing was censored, everything straight out of Iran, from political active groups in Iran, coming in there. And that was a big, big thorn in the eyes of the regime. Because political activists inside of Iran cannot show their face. They cannot say what they're doing. They cannot say who they are, who they're working with what they want to accomplish, what their goals are, nothing of that. Even... even being associated in some way with a political group in Iran means a death sentence for you. So, people in Iran who are politically active need an outlet outside of the country. That's where all of those dissidents come into play that are in America or in Europe and that are helping, and my dad provided this portal for them. Since that time that he became public till now, we have been under attack, whether it be cyber attack, whether it be threat calls, whether people trying to lure him out of the country for reasons, people trying to meet him inside the country, pretending to be part of... of the dissident group. And of course, like threats to our body, which was several assassination attempts, but one of them went public. So, this one I can talk about, which was in 2009, where the Islamic regime sent an assassin to Los Angeles, to our house. He hired somebody here to make it look like an accident. They had a truck. They were supposed to run over my dad. They also had guns in case they would miss, or my dad would survive. They would kill him, but the plan was to run him over. Thankfully, that was caught in time by the FBI. And they were exposed. The person that was hired to run over the track, he chickened out at the last minute and went to the local police here. They already knew that guy, that Mohammad Reza Sadeghnia, who came from the regime. He brought the money, he hired this person, he went to trial. He went to jail here for a year, until he was released to Iran to see his sick father, which we think was a swap, a prisoner swap at that time. So, that's... that's what happened in 2009. After that, there were several other attempts in several other places where they wanted to take my dad out, hijack the website, trying to find out who these political activists are inside of Iran, tried to identify... identify them, make sure they're silenced, make sure nothing gets out and, of course, to kill my dad. So that, in a nutshell, is the... is the backstory that we have for the last ten years, at least, of terror from the regime. And now in this... in this horrible pandemic, where everybody is feared for their life because of a virus, my dad was taken and... and he's... he's there now.

 

Daren Nair  26:19

So, having your father being taken hostage by the regime and not being able to speak to him, not knowing how he's doing right now, whether he's getting the medical care he needs, is obviously very traumatic to you and your family. So, how have you and your mother and your brother been coping?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  26:40

We haven't been coping very well. To tell... And to tell you the truth, I mean, I don't know how to say it, but our life is upside down. Our life is not the same. I can't work at this time. I mean, I'm a first-time mom anyways, I'm with my child right now. But I'm in my head so much. I had severe, and still have severe depression, trauma from the time that this happened, of course, and... and, of course, that's all packed with postpartum depression, everything together. But to the point where... where it's really not good and I'm seeking help right now. But I'm just the daughter. I mean, I can't imagine what's going on in the head of my mother. My mother and my father, they've been together for 40 years, and they've been inseparable. It's a deep love. It's a great relationship. They've been partners in everything that they do. And to think that she wakes up every day, and he's not next to her, I can't even imagine that. I catch myself all of the time, all of the day, thinking about the worst scenarios that can happen to him. I mean, if you know that he is in certain place, like for example, Evin Prison, in this cell, and this is what... what people say about this cell, it is still a horrible one, it's still bad. But not knowing where he is gives you all of these horrible ideas that you can just imagine yourself, and it makes it worse and not knowing how he's doing, when he's allowed to call, how they're torturing him. I mean, the psychological torture alone of not being able to talk to anybody, not being able to see anybody for a month, for years is... is horrifying. We were on quarantine, and we were all, like, suffering so much and being so depressed, because we couldn't go out, you know, like into the public. Imagine you're in a cell for... for so long. Imagine you can't... you can't get your food, you can't get your medication, you have physical pains. It's just horrifying just to think about that. And I don't know if that is the only kind of torture that they're doing to him because of his political involvement, and because they want to get to other people. So, I assume that there is more physical torture, and we can't see his body. So, I don't know how he looks. I know in one of his phone calls, that he said that he lost so much weight, I think it was 40 pounds of weight. And my dad is... is six feet, six-two, six-three or six-two tall, and he weighs about 60 kilogrammes, he said. That's nothing. That's... that's how much I weigh. So, he lost so much weight there. He has pains. He... in one of the phone calls, he told us that his teeth has been pulled out. I don't know if they're doing dental procedures there, if that's a form of torture, we... we can't understand. We can't pinpoint it, you know. It's just bits of information that are coming through in the phone calls that he is allowed. And in those phone calls that he's allowed, which are like every so many months, there are guards present. His interrogators are... are present, right next to him. So, you can imagine, like, the truth is something, and what he tells us is something completely else, because he could not tell us what was going on there.

 

Daren Nair  30:01

I'm sorry, you're going through this. If it's any consolation, know that you're not alone. A lot of people are with you on this and want to help. So, stay strong. What support have you received from the German and US governments to date? Because your father is a German citizen, and he's lived in the US for 17 years, right? So, what kind of support, if any, have you received from both governments?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  30:31

Yeah, the support that we have received is... formally, it's... it's great support. Formally, the German government came right from the beginning and told us, "we... your dad, is a German citizen. We want to represent behind him. We do everything that we can, while we're there. We're talking to everybody on the highest levels, we will get to him, we will try to get to him, we will do this, we will do that." From Day 1, they've been there. They... they invited us here to the German Consulate. We talk to them here. We talk to the Auswartigen every day, not every day, sorry, continuously. And that was... that was great. I mean, we saw the support. The Americans, not directly to us, they did not say that they... they can support him, because he's not a US citizen. But to our lawyers and everything, we know that they... they're still supporting us. And we're working with the agencies over here as well. And they... they are supportive of us as well. But, and this is a really big but, looking at the last year, and at what these governments have really accomplished, we can say that either they did nothing, or whatever they did was not enough, because, after one year, we still don't know where he is. We still don't know what the charges are. We still don't know how he was taken from Dubai to Iran. How is this even possible? We don't know anything that we didn't know one year ago. So... so, looking at the results, there has been absolutely no change. And deep in our hearts, we refuse to believe that this is all that they can do. I mean, Germany is a big trade partner of... of Iran. We think that if they wanted to, they... they could at least get somebody through to him, they could at least get somebody there and tell us, this is where he is. This is how he looked to us. This is what they're doing to him, or these are the charges. Nothing has been done of that sort. And we're hoping with a... with a new government and everything forming that this will change and hopefully get to the better. So, hopeful for the future.

 

Daren Nair  32:44

I know there are JCPOA negotiations going on in Vienna. Germany is a part of that. What do you think they should be saying to the Iranian delegation, if anything?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  32:59

What they should be saying is absolutely no deals unless we're talking about human rights first. You... I cannot imagine talking about business, talking about nuclear power, weapons, whatever it is, while people are being... being taken hostage, while people are being robbed of their rights, citizens of that country. I cannot just come to a table and... and expect a fair deal with you when you're just reaching over the border and grabbing my citizens and doing whatever you want to them. That... that is unacceptable. So, the very least is talking about human rights, releasing all... all of the political prisoners that they're keeping hostage right now. And then we can talk about anything else. Before that, I don't understand what they're doing. I don't understand how they can even be at a table. This is... this is unacceptable. This is not right. This is inhumane. We have to understand that human rights are so much more worth than anything else. And that's what I expect from them.

 

Daren Nair  34:03

So, when you say all political prisoners, there are at least 16 known foreign and dual-nationals being held hostage in Iran. There are four from the US. There are three or four from the UK. There are two from France. There are two from Germany, not just your father. There are two from Austria. And again, I say known hostages. There are definitely more people. Now, given that Germany, your father is not the only German hostage in Iran, and the fact that the EU Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for the Iranian regime to release these individuals, doesn't that, I mean that I completely agree with you as part of the negotiations, this should definitely be brought up. I also appreciate that a lot of the National Security types are going to say, "well, the purpose of these negotiations are to make sure Iran doesn't get the nuclear bomb." But, and I can appreciate that, if you're... if they're only thinking about this in terms of numbers of people affected, but at the same time, these hostages matter. They need to be brought home. And even though nobody doubts the intentions of most of these people negotiating in Vienna right now, from the US or from Germany, but it's key, it's important for us to keep reminding them, that there are human lives, they're German lives, American lives are at stake right now. And they're suffering. Their families are suffering. And as hard as it is this... they need to be brought back home. They did it once before with Jason Rezaian during the first round of nuclear talks, they can do it again. So, what can journalists and news outlets do to help?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  35:52

 Yes.  Yeah, you're absolutely right about what you just said. I mean, it's not just about my father. That's what... that's why I keep saying all of them have to come home. It's... it's my father's dear to me, he's not dear to many other people. It is about the principle. It's about the principle of taking a human being and playing with his life, and playing with his life as a... as a political card. And, of course, you're right. I mean, they're... they're talking about nuclear... nuclear bombs, and they want... don't want for them to have nuclear weapons. But we don't even have to go into nuclear weapons. I mean, if you are able to reach out into different countries and kidnap people, assassinate people there, that is already a violation of human rights. I mean, why would you expect somebody to... to follow a nuclear deal if they can't even stick to international law, if... to human rights laws? I mean, that even if their interest isn't for them not to have nuclear weapons, they should put this first, because that's the very first principle that people have to follow international law, don't break rules, don't go into other borders and kidnap people, don't assassinate people in other countries. I mean, that... that... that should be number one. Once you can adhere to these normal rules, now we can talk about other stuff. That should be the number one. But what... what your question was about media outlets, and what people can do. Media and people have the biggest influence of this. I mean, every time when I post something on Twitter, people are telling me, the government doesn't care about people, there's nothing we can do... da... da... da... da... da. I know that governments obviously do not care about all of those things, or seemingly do not place a lot of their value onto... onto human rights laws and all of those things, but that's because of us. We...we elect these people. We elect these governments, at least, in the free world, and they do what we want as... as a group, as people. And if... if we show them that human rights are important to us, individually, and as a group, and as a society, then they have to act on that. If we show them that we don't care about human rights, why should they care in the negotiation? Then they will go and talk about business. So, we first have to show we care about human rights by posting about this, by being engaged, going to your representatives, talking about this, liking, just... just freaking liking a post about this. Coming forward, sharing these stories, what...  what you are doing, for example, podcasts, all of those things to bring these stories out, because I, honestly, I did not know, even though my dad was politically active, I did not know that hostage-taking was a thing. I did... I absolutely did not know that. And that is not because I didn't look for that, it's because it is so under-exposed. Because really, you have to be in that... in that scenario to to look for it and know that this is going on. And... and we need people to pay attention to this and to spread this and being more engaged. And you don't know how much of an influence that makes. I mean, when the media picked up my father's case, when you, back then, were helping me and getting me to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and all of those things that, thankfully, you got me through, because I couldn't get through to them, my dad was calling us almost every month. And now that it has almost, like, ebbed off and the media is not picking it up that much anymore, and people are not that interested in it anymore, because it's an old story, so to say, he hasn't called for four months now. So, you think you don't... you don't make a change. You think that simple people don't make a change. They make a huge change. I can see it with my dad. I can see that he is calling us, and he is well, that he's been treated well, being allowed at least more call... phone calls, or that he's not. And what you're doing by helping us, by bringing the story out, is securing his life. Every time this gets shared, every time this gets spoken about, you're making sure that my dad and other people that are kept there hostage, are kept alive and hopefully kept well. And that is a huge power that you have in your hands, that you don't even know about. So, I'm thankful to everybody who shares that. I'm thankful to all of those people that reached out to me and are still reaching out to me and doing that, because you have a tremendous power that politicians don't even have, because we... we can make these changes together. But you have to start, and you have to do these little changes and to help us.

 

Daren Nair  40:35

No, I absolutely agree with you. As the saying goes, the most powerful office in government is the office of citizen. For members of the public in the US, what can they do? I mean, what should they write to their local Congressman, their Senator, or even to the White House? What should they say?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  40:54

Tell them how you feel about it. Tell them first of all your questions. How is this possible that people are kept hostage? How is this in the 21st century possible? What are you, as my representative, doing about this? How are you voting to... to... to prevent this? How are you getting these people back? If this happens to me, or my loved one or my local news agent or... or human rights person, how are you going to get this person back? What can we do? What can we change? They can... they don't have to come up with a solution. They can write them and ask these questions that we all have. What are you doing about it? What? Why? Why do you not do anything about it? And that alone triggers people to react. I mean, just, like, posting questions on Twitter, I saw... I saw journalists posting questions over and over again to the press, and the press started picking this up. And then when the press reacted, the government agencies reacted. So, just whatever you feel in your heart, if you feel, "hey, I don't feel secure, I feel totalitarian... totalitarian regimes can come and rob us of our rights, and I don't feel safe," post this. Talk about that. As long as we're talking, as long as we have a dialogue, that's all I'm asking for you. You don't have to say anything that you don't want to say. If you care about human rights, if you care about the principle that me and you can stand anywhere in the world and talk without being... being shut down or... or... or robbed of our rights, speak up about this. That's all I want.

 

Daren Nair  42:25

On the point of writing to politicians, I saw your name in that letter that American families wrote, with the help of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation to President Biden. Could you just elaborate further on that letter, and why you participated in that? And what are you expecting from President Biden?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  42:47

That's a good question. So, from the beginning, pretty much, when this happened to my dad, I immediately reached out and saw there were so many other families that this, not exact story, but very similar story... story happened to, and they have loved ones that are taken by... by a totalitarian regime. And they are hostage families. And I reached out to them, and I wanted them to join, so we're all together, and we can do everything together and learn from each other. And I thought that was a great idea. But talking to most of these families, I saw that most of them were terrified. Most of them did not want to respond. If they responded, they did not want to be part of a group or anything. But they were... they were afraid to do a lot of things, even speaking out on social media was... was a big threat to them. And they're right to do so, because it is terrifying that Iran puts threats on the... on the family, you are terrified. Every time I'm talking in public, or I'm doing an interview, I'm doing a podcast, or I'm putting up a tweet or saying anything public, I'm terrified for my life. I'm terrified for my mom, for my brother, for my daughter, for my husband, I'm terrified for anybody who's around me. And rightly so, because they... they put threats out and they are terrifying and they are threatening to harm you or your... hurt your loved one or whatever. I'm not saying not to be afraid. I'm saying even though we all are so terrified, the only thing that we can do is to do the right thing as a group, because that makes us stronger. Because that gives us a voice all together, instead of me trying to advocate for my dad and so on. So, advocating for their mom or brother or daughter or whatever, all together advocating for... for these hostages, we can have a bigger voice. And that's... that's... that's what I tried to do. And that's what I liked about the Foley Foundation and this letter that we all came together as a group, as family members, and we have a bigger voice. So whether it's the President Biden or President Trump or any other president after that, we expect the same thing from them. And we expect them to... to hear us out. We expect them to have decency and... and to advocate for human rights and to let us know what they're gonna do to bring our loved ones back. How are they gonna do that? Keep a dialogue open, and then act upon it, show us what they have done. And I expect this from the Americans, and I expect this from the German government as well. Support your people, support you... support us. We have been victimised. We are victims, too, of a crime. We are suffering here, too, as the families, not just our loved ones over there, obviously robbed of all of their rights. We, here, want to get together, and we want to make an impact on... on the governments and get something done.

 

Daren Nair  45:33

Gazelle, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  45:38

I just want to take a second to thank everybody who has actually reached out in this time and helped us out of the goodness of their heart. You, Daren, are one of them, who came forward and asked us what do we need. "How can I help you?" And you helped us so much to get through to... to... to the NGOs, our... our lawyer, Jason, and the Global Liberty Alliance, which is this NGO here, they have helped us. They are trying to get us through to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. And so many reporters who... who did not just do their job of covering the story, but constantly check back with us, see how we're doing, getting updates from us, like, these are really people who you can tell they're doing it from the bottom of their hearts. And you people are very rare. But you don't know how much we appreciate you. We don't know how happy we are that you people are here. Please continue what you're doing. You don't appreciate it until the moment you really, really need help. And you see that this world is divided into people who don't care, and people who do care and do act upon what's in their heart. And I'm so glad that I, even in those dark times, had the chance to found... find these people and continue my relationship with them. Thank you for being here. Thank you, everybody who after this, watching this, will come forward and join us. We appreciate anything that... that you do. We need your help. We're alone here. We need everybody who can help, even the smallest little word can... can make our day. You can find us on Twitter. You can... My... my brother made a website. It's called freesharmahd.org You can go on there, and just reach out, and we can talk. And thank you so much for watching this. And thank you, Daren, for giving me the time to speak.

 

Daren Nair  47:42

You're very welcome, Gazelle, I'm honoured to help. So, for people... so you mentioned briefly, for people who want to keep up with your campaign, there's the freesharmahd. org website. Let me just check.

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  47:55

You can always find me through my... the hashtag, #FreeJamshidSharmahd.

 

Daren Nair  47:59

Sure, and you have a Twitter account as well. It's... what's your Twitter account handle?

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  48:06

@GazelleSharmahd.

 

Daren Nair  48:07

Okay, great. Gazelle, we'll, as I said before, as I've told you many times, we'll be right here campaigning by your side until your father comes back home.

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  48:18

Thank you.

 

Daren Nair  48:18

 Thank you for joining us.

 

Gazelle Sharmahd  48:19

Thank you so much, Daren.

 

Daren Nair  48:26

Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Pod Hostage Diplomacy. We're not just a podcast, we're a community. If you're on Twitter and would like to post a message of solidarity to the families or have any questions for us, please tweet it using the hashtag #PodHostageDiplomacy, and we will get back to you. If you like what we're trying to do, please do consider supporting the show financially. You can do this using the support the show link in the description of this podcast episode. We're grateful for any contributions, no matter how small. Thanks again for listening. And we'll be back next week. Take care.