Shahab Dalili is a US permanent resident from Virginia. His wife and children are all US citizens. In April 2016, Shahab went to Tehran to attend his father’s funeral. He was then arrested and has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran to this day. Shahab is not the only American currently held hostage in Iran. The Iranians are also holding captive: Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.
On this episode, we have the honour of speaking to Shahab’s son, Darian Dalili. Darian walks us through what happened to his father, his unfair trial and how the Dalili family are all coping with this trauma. We end the episode talking about what the Iranian authorities and US government need to do as well as what journalists and the public can do to help bring Shahab back home to his family in Virginia.
If you prefer, you can watch the video version of this interview on YouTube.
For more information on Shahab Dalili, please check out the following:
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Free Shahab Dalili, American hostage in Iran | Pod Hostage Diplomacy
Daren Nair, Darian Dalili
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 and let you know how you can help bring them home.
Elizabeth Whelan 00:18
Now when it comes to using the family to get... for Russia to get what they want, if that's the case, they've picked the wrong family, because I'm not going to carry water for the Russian authorities.
Daren Nair 00:28
These are some of the most courageous and resilient people among us.
Mariam Claren 00:32
I never thought that my mother, Nahid Taghavi, will ever have a link to negotiations in Vienna about the JCPOA. That's so crazy.
Daren Nair 00:43
People who have never given up hope.
Paula Reed 00:46
Trevor told his girlfriend to tell me to... to be strong. So, I'm trying to be strong for Trevor.
Joey Reed 00:50
You know, if Trevor can cope with what he's dealing with...
Paula Reed 00:53
Joey Reed 00:53
We can sure cope with the stress.
Daren Nair 00:55
People who will never stop working to reunite their families.
Joey Reed 01:00
We'd like to meet with the President. We believe that, you know, he has... he's surrounded by lots of experienced and and educated advisors. But I don't believe that any of them have ever had a child taken hostage by a foreign country, especially not a superpower like Russia.
Daren Nair 01:15
And we will be right there by their side until their loved one comes back home.
Richard Ratcliffe 01:20
Because if enough people care, then the right people will care enough.
Daren Nair 01:24
I'm Daren Nair, and I've been campaigning with many of these families for years. When I first started campaigning with his families, I noticed they struggled to get the media attention they needed. So, I decided to create this podcast, which is a safe space for the families to speak as long as they need to about their loved ones, and what needs to be done to bring them home.
Mariam Claren 01:45
Nobody can prepare you for what our family's going through. Even if someone had told me one year before, in one years, this is going to happen. Prepare yourself. It's impossible.
Daren Nair 01:59
Thank you for listening. And welcome to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Shahab Dalili is an American permanent resident from Virginia. He's a husband and a father. His wife and children are all US citizens. In 2016, Shahab went to Tehran to attend his father's funeral. He was then arrested and has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran to this day. Iran has a long history of taking foreign nationals and residents hostage to gain concessions from their home country. This is state-sponsored hostage-taking, also known as hostage diplomacy. Shahab is not the only American currently held hostage in Iran. The Iranians are also holding captive Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz. Today, we have the honour of speaking to Shahab's son, Darian Dalili. Darian, we're so sorry for what you, your father and your family are going through. Thank you for joining us.
Darian Dalili 02:56
Thank you. It's good to be here.
Daren Nair 02:58
Now, can you please walk us through what happened to your father?
Darian Dalili 03:01
Sure. So, back in April 2016, he was arrested on his way to the airport, to the Imam Khomeini airport. He was about to board a flight to fly back to the US after attending... after having attended my grandfather's funeral. And on his way to the airport, the taxi that he was, you know, he was in was pulled over. And he was arrested in the middle of the night. We didn't learn about him being arrested until hours after we were... we were expecting him to land in the Dulles Airport. So, you can imagine, like, just waiting in the Dulles Airport, waiting for him to arrive, and then everybody has already disembarked the plane, but he's not there, you know, that sense of worry. Hours later, we, you know, our minds were like, is he even alive? What has happened to him, because the last we knew of him was he got on a taxi to get to the airport? But now, you know, it doesn't seem like he was ever on the plane. So, took several hours, close to 24 hours until we actually learned, okay, he never even got to the airport. He was arrested. Yeah, so that was the first of it. And then for several days, close to maybe a couple of weeks, we weren't able to hear anything from him. We just heard from other people who, like, got in contact with, like, the authorities in Iran who have arrested him and, you know, let us know that, "yes, he has been arrested." It took a... it took a few weeks before he was able to reach out to us directly himself. We learned that he has been questioned. He's been basically lied to. He's been threatened with our safety, like, they tried to trick him into thinking that my mother has flown to Iran. And now, like, he has to give them the answers that they want in order to kind of make sure that my mother is not arrested, which was not true at all. My mother never flew to Iran. So, they lied and tricked him into getting him to say what they wanted him to say, get false confessions. And he was thrown in, you know, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement for, I would say, two to three weeks, I'm not exactly sure how many days, but it was probably around three weeks. This was all back in, like, the very early days of his imprisonment back in 2016. Since then, he has been moved to the to... the... the, they call it the ward, the ward that all the, you know, the secure... high security, political prisoners are kept in. And, yeah, so he's been able to call us every now and again. Usually, he manages to call once or twice a week.
Daren Nair 06:00
All right, so thanks for that. And I'm sorry, for what happened to your father. Now, does your father have any medical conditions? And if so, was he given the medical care he needs?
Darian Dalili 06:10
Um, there is no... but his medical condition is simply the fact that, you know, he's... he's... he is 60... 60-years-old now. You know, he's starting to have the same sort of, like, joint pains and, you know, the sort of pains that men his age would have, especially, you know, being in the prison. You don't get the nutrition and the exercise that you probably need. So, that's the sort of, he kind of tells us that, yeah, "I have this pain, like in my... in this joint or that joint." But it hasn't been anything too serious. It's just that you're worried for him, because, you know, a man his age should not be in that condition. Um, as far as the medical care, um, I believe he has mentioned his joint pains to whatever, you know, people that they have over there in the Evin Prison, but nothing, nothing that have, like make... it hasn't been diagnosed, or it hasn't been... seemed important enough to, like, take him to a hospital or anything. But we are worried about the fact that he's starting to get... to get to that stage of his life that he really needs to be cared for. So, we are worried about that, of course.
Daren Nair 07:25
Now. Iran's judicial system is notoriously unfair. Was your father given access to a lawyer? And what was his trial like?
Darian Dalili 07:35
So, yeah, he... we were able to, you know, pick a lawyer. The lawyer himself later was, like, maybe a year or two later, after he started working for my father, the lawyer himself was arrested under, like, suspicion of having written things in publications that were anti-regime. As far as the trial, so, it was the funny... the most interesting thing, saddest thing, and in a tragic way, funny thing about the trial was that, so, my father's main defence was that "the reason you guys are putting me in prison is that you have found a couple of emails that I did have, like an email communication between me and an American individual. And you're calling that espionage. But what has been discussed in those emails is, like, is by no means confidential. What has been discuss... I wasn't giving them anything. I wasn't giving them any secret information. We were discussing, like, what was already known to the public and what was in the news." And then the judge tells him that even discussing the weather with an American individual is espionage, is against the law. So I... that sentence being used in a... in an official court hearing, you know, that official court trial, the judge was bold enough to say something as ridiculous and as senseless as that, it's... it's been haunting me since.
Daren Nair 09:13
So, how many years in prison has he been sentenced?
Darian Dalili 09:16
Ten. Ten years.
Daren Nair 09:17
Okay. And he's six years into that sentence at the moment.
Darian Dalili 09:21
Slightly more than six, yeah, like a few months, more than six.
Daren Nair 09:25
I think according to Iranian law, you have this opportunity to be released early for, I... I forget the reason.
Darian Dalili 09:34
Daren Nair 09:35
Yes, good behaviour. So, you have to have served two thirds of your sentence. Your dad's already done that.
Darian Dalili 09:40
Daren Nair 09:41
So, is he not eligible for release, according to Iranian law?
Darian Dalili 09:44
There has been... Starting a couple of months ago, we heard stuff about this release for good behaviour, and my aunt has been following up, trying to get that... trying to see if that works out. But she told us that "it's going to be a lengthy process, so don't be expecting anything today or next week, within the next couple of weeks." But we are hopeful that maybe if this does happen, early 2023, for example, maybe mid-2023. The only... however, usually when they get... do get released for good behaviour, they are still not able to leave the country until the actual ten years is up. So, for that last one-third of his sentence, he'd be out of prison, he'd be a free person, but within the borders and we won't... I don't... that's what... that's what we have heard, that even if he does get that good behaviour release, he wouldn't be able to come back to you until the ten years, so...
Daren Nair 10:44
So, just to take a step back for the benefit of our listeners, can you please tell them more about your father's background, as in his education, his job, etc?
Darian Dalili 10:54
Sure. So, my father, right now, he's been retired for several years. He was retired before his imprisonment. So, but his profession was he worked for the IRISL, that's the Iranian shipping lines. So, it's kind of a foreign notion to people who live in the US and live in the UK, for example, that trade ships or trading, you know, trading vessels would be government-operated, because in... in the Western countries, these are all usually done by private entities and private companies. That's not the case in Iran. In Iran. sea trade is really governed by the government. It's something that the government does. So, the IRISL is this entity that's in charge of trade via, you know, via sea, and my father worked for them. So, he would have started at a... like, from a low cadet position. When I say cadet, that doesn't mean in the military sense, a cadet, a civilian cadet that is working on a trade ship. And he would have to... he worked his way up to, you know, Fourth Officer, Third Officer, Second Officer, then, you know, First Officer and then Captain. And so, when he was on a ship, he would be a Captain. When he wasn't on a ship, when he was back on land, he would be... he would go to the office and work out of the office for the IRISL. So, he actually got his degree, I'm not sure exactly what degree that... I always forget the name of the degree that he has, but the degree that he has that qualifies him for that job, he actually received that in India. My father went to college in India. And back then, it was called Bombay, and now it's called Mumbai, that city. Yeah, so that's his education. Um, but yeah, so that's his profession. And so, the... those emails that I mentioned with an American individual, this was a person that he had met while he was, like, on a, for example, on a trip sanctioned by IRISL, on a trip that they were sending him on, for example, let's say to London. He would go to London to attend a seminar, for example. And then he would happen to meet people at this seminar, and then they would become, you know, they would change contact information, because they were gonna... they were going to be seeing each other in the next seminar next year, and next year, you know, the same... the same sort of way that anyone would find professional contacts. And, um, you know, and then, for example, this pers... this person or some other person, not only Americans, people from other nationalities would, you know, they would have email communications, like, "what do you think about this new thing in the news? What do you think about this thing that has happened?" And they would have... And then now, they're using those email communications to... to tell that he was a spy, or he was doing espionage, even though nothing in those emails was by any means confidential. Nothing in those emails, by... was any... was by any means things that, like, couldn't be discussed by any means. It was all public information, things that people would know just by reading the news. He never gave any information that he would have known because his, like, because of his job, he would have known, and then he wasn't supposed to share it with anyone. He never shared anything like that. So, the whole fact that the judge said, "even if you're discussing the weather with an American, that's espionage," that, just to me, reveals the hypocrisy of the system. The fact that they... they themselves know that what they are doing is wrong, when the.. when the judge comes up and says a sentence like that.
Daren Nair 14:51
No, I absolutely agree. Now, when was the last time you spoke to your father, and how's he doing right now?
Darian Dalili 14:58
Actually, today. Earlier today, he was, because he knows that Saturdays, Sundays, I'm home. So, whenever he can, he tries to call. So, I actually spoke with him, just like, maybe four or five hours ago, a short five to seven minutes long conversation, that's usually it is, you know, it can't be longer than that. My father is... is a very outwardly strong character. He, even if he happens to be, like, have an illness, if he happens to be in pain, he's not the sort of person to show it. So, and especially when he calls us, he always try to start the conversation and talk with a very positive energy, you know, he tries to... I can feel that it's he's trying. It's not coming to him naturally. He tries to laugh, often, he tries to, like, say things that makes it sound like he's right here and having a normal conversation with us. And that has helped us deal with this, the fact that he is so positive, the fact that he has tried his best to remain positive, even though he's in an awful... he's in awful conditions. He's a very strong man. He's a very strong character. So, he is, but yeah, I can tell that he is... he is sad and depressed like all of us. Again, I'm sorry that this is happening to your father, to you and to your family. Now, I know these last six years have obviously been very traumatic. How have you been coping and the rest of your family? My first reaction was, especially because of the fact that for about 24 hours or so, we had no idea even if he was alive. You know, I told you about going to the airport, awaiting the... all the passengers to get out, get off the plane and then not seeing him. That was... that was a stressful... So, for the first 24 hours, I was... I was... I was scared, I was afraid. And when I learned that he was alive, that he was physically fine, that was a relief. When I learned what was the charges that he was being arrested for, that was... I was like, there's no... there's no way that this is going to stay, that the condition, the situation is going to stay for a long time because this is ridiculous. They shouldn't... they should very soon realise how ridiculous and how silly this is, but they didn't. And then, since then, it's just been, you know, trying my best to stay as positive as I possibly can, trying to reach out to different people, different people in the... in the US government, both in the previous administration, and then in this current administration, trying to get support for my father. It's been especially difficult for my mom and my younger brother, I believe. You know, my mother is... she's also starting to get this sort of stage in her life, to an age that it's not easy for her not having her husband around. It's very hard. It's very hard on the whole family, I would say. It's it's also really... it's been really hard for my brother. He was 14, when my father... 14, 15 when my father was arrested. He was at an age that... yeah, he was 15... he was 15 when my father was arrested. He was at an age that he really needed a father figure in his life. I was older, you know, I was 21. So, 20, 20, I was 21. So, being a 21-year-old, you know, I was less dependent on that parent figure. But being a 15-year-old, that's a really, really bad age, to have this father figure... have your father removed from your life or, at least, know that he is somewhere, you know, being... knowing that he's there, and he doesn't have access to us, and we don't have access to him. It's been... it's been really hard for him especially. I don't know how I would have coped If this has happened to me when I was 15. But, yeah, for those two, it's been especially difficult. I've... I've... I've tried to remain the strong figure, the positive figure whenever I feel... whenever I see them, like, getting all emotional, tearing up, you know, crying a little bit over... over things. I tried to be the stronger one, I tried to be the positive one, try to tell them that we have to be thankful that he's fine, that he is alive, that he... he's well, he's well enough to be able to call us every now and again, that, you know, because of the fact that he is a very strong character. We have to be strong for him as well. So, I've... I've... I've tried to be the stronger one out of the three of us. Yeah, it's been especially hard on those two.
Daren Nair 20:05
Now, we know the main culprit here is the Iranian regime, the Iranian authorities. What should they be doing?
Darian Dalili 20:13
They should be having to look at themselves in the mirror, just thinking of why they're doing this. like, because, like, when that Judge... I, again, come back to that sentence that that judge said, because you guys know that he hasn't done anything wrong. You guys know that he hasn't shared any sensitive confidential information. You guys know that he hasn't done anything that could be reasonably labelled as espionage or anything illegal. They should be... they should be... just they should release him. They should release him, and they should allow him to come back to us.
Daren Nair 20:48
What should the US government be doing better?
Darian Dalili 20:51
I'd like people like Ambassador Carstens or Mr... Mr. Malley to, and you know, everyone at the Biden Administration to... do not forget, of all the different people that are either citizens or permanent residents of the US that are imprisoned in Iran. Remember them all, including my father. Do not... I don't know. It's... it's really hard to gauge what stage of negotiations we are at. Every day, it seems, like, every day, oh, it's cold. Now it's... now it's hot again. Now it's cold again. Now it's hot, again. They get negotiations between the two countries. But whatever happens, if these negotiations get to... get to a point that US gives some sort of advantage, some sort of a concession to Iran in any way, without people like my father coming home, that's a huge failure. That's devastating. If... if we reach that point without that happening, that is devastating. So, just don't forget my father. You know, the people who are sitting at those... sitting at that table, people who are active in those negotiations, don't forget my father and people like him.
Daren Nair 22:06
Absolutely. Now, you mentioned Ambassador Roger Carstens. He is the current US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. His team works to bring Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained overseas, abroad, back home. Has your father's case been taken up by the SPEHA team, or the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs team?
Darian Dalili 22:33
As far as I know, they are... they are aware of his case, and they are aware of him very much so, because I've made sure that I've made... that I've made the case for him to all those people, both in the previous administration and now in the new administration. I have written a letter for Ambassador Carstens that I, you know, through the sources that I had available to me, tried to get it to him. I hope he has seen the letter. I hope he has read it. I haven't received any response. I haven't received any acknowledgement that, "yes, he got your letter," but I hope that he has. But as far as I know, officially, my father's case is still on the Iranian Affairs desk and not on the SPEHA desk, which is... which is disappointing, to say the least.
Daren Nair 23:23
So, your father's case is not classified as wrongfully detained, like the other Americans, Siamak and Baquer Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz.
Darian Dalili 23:35
Unfortunately, the last... the last conversation that I had with people at the DOS, that's what they told me that, "yes, we cannot officially classify your father as a wrongfully detained case."
Daren Nair 23:50
So, the Levinson Act has been signed into law. It covers Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained overseas, both citizens and residents, as in permanent residents like your father. And Section 2, Subsection A explicitly states the criteria that can be used to classify whether or not an individual is wrongfully detained. So, I know one family that was initially assigned to the Consular Affairs desk, and they took this Levensin Act. They wrote a letter to Secretary Blinken, provided evidence, supporting evidence for each point in that criteria, saying "my loved one meets this criteria. Here's the evidence." And they did it for every criteria in Section 2, Subsection A of the Levinson Act. They sent a letter to Secretary Blinken, and then they got a reply from Ambassador Carstens saying, "I agree that your loved one meets this criteria to be classified as wrongfully detained. My team has now taken on your loved one's case." So, have you tried something like that?
Darian Dalili 25:03
I have written.
Daren Nair 25:04
Or has anyone even told you that is a possibility?
Darian Dalili 25:08
Yes, we have been told by... by people that are advising us that that's the case. And I have... I have written a letter to Ambassador Carstens, and I have written a letter to Secretary Blinken. I have written letters to both. And in both those two letters, I did bring up that the Levinson Act does protect people like my father. Like I said, I have not received any acknowledgement that those letters were even read. I didn't do that... The only part that I haven't done that you mentioned is going through every... every different part of the Act and providing specific evidence for each part, because I was told that the fact that he was a permanent resident at the time of arrest is enough. That... that's... that's enough. There is... there's nothing else that you need to tell them. Just the fact that... that he was a permanent resident protects him, makes the Levinson Act apply to him. And that's what I mentioned. You know, I mentioned that the Levinson Act should protect somebody who is a permanent resident like my father. Like I said, I haven't seen any reaction to any of those letters, which is very disappointing.
Daren Nair 26:23
Has the US government publicly called for your father's release?
Darian Dalili 26:27
As far as I know, no. I have... I have followed the news. I have followed the interviews. They have never... a US government official has never mentioned my father's name.
Daren Nair 26:38
Has any member of the US Congress publicly called for your father's release?
Darian Dalili 26:43
Publicly? No. Not publicly.
Daren Nair 26:46
I'm sorry to hear that. They should. What should President Biden do?
Darian Dalili 26:51
Just whatever sort of diplomatic action that would get him home. At this point, I don't know anymore. Is it? Is it? Do they think that publicly naming him... I would... I would be definitely happy to hear a Biden Administration official publicly naming my father as one of the people that they want to bring home, as one of the people that they want Iran to release. That would be... that would be great, if they publicly acknowledge him. Whatever that would bring my father home as soon as possible, like, this... this shouldn't be... this shouldn't be that hard. You have a person over there that they are saying has committed espionage that has not. The evidence against him is... is laughable. They... it's... it's a bunch of emails discussing the news. They should... they should not allow the negotiations to reach any sort of positive result for Iran, if my father is not being released,
Daren Nair 27:49
So, if you could speak to President Biden today, what would you say to him?
Darian Dalili 27:54
Do not forget my father, and when you are naming people that have to be released, that those four names that you keep naming, that's not everyone. There are more. There are eight, nine people and my father is there. Make sure you name all of them.
Daren Nair 28:08
I absolutely agree. What can journalists and the news editors do to help? Because like you said, I see in the news, they keep repeating the four names, the Namazis, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz, but they don't cover the other Americans held in Iran. So obviously, the media can play a big part here in raising awareness. So, in your opinion, what can journalists and news editors do to help, especially American media?
Darian Dalili 28:38
Keep posing that question. Keep bringing up names like the name of my father in their interviews with, like, you know, the Speaker of the DOS, for example, whoever's that... that the government official who's giving those talks, who's being interviewed, who's giving... who's answering those questions. Put them under pressure, ask what about Shahab Dalili? Do you know of him? Let's see what they say publicly. Try and... try and just, you know, force the attention to be not only on those four people, but on all American citizens and residents that are imprisoned in Iran. I think... I think the journalists have a very, very strong... a very strong tool in their hands, because they are... they are the people who speak to power. They are the people who cover powerful people, who cover our politicians. They are the people who have to keep making sure that politicians are, you know, accountable to what they should be accountable for. I think journalists, if they ask the questions that address... that address people like my father, that would be helpful.
Daren Nair 29:47
What can the American public do to help bring your father home?
Darian Dalili 29:50
Call your Representatives, call your Senators. Tell them that, "do you know of these people, people apart from those four people that keep being named? Do you know that there are more? Do you know that there are eight or nine? Why is nobody doing anything to bring them all home?" Just... that's I think... that's what the public should be doing... the public should be... That's... that's... that's the way that they can help is by, you know, raising it with their Representatives in the House or the Senate.
Daren Nair 30:21
Darian, we're almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
Darian Dalili 30:26
Just that, don't forget us. Don't forget my father. And next time, hopefully, it won't be the case, but if you do hear them naming only four people, know that there are more. Just know, just... just remember that there are more. And remember that if... if these negotiations, God forbid, reach a point that Iran gets what Iran wants, without people like my father being released, that... that is a devastating result for several families over here at the US.
Daren Nair 31:01
Darian, we say this to all the families we campaign for. We'll be right here by your side until your father comes back home to Virginia. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today.
Darian Dalili 31:11
Thank you for the time. Thank you for giving me the time to bring these points up and, you know, make my voice heard.
Daren Nair 31:17
You're very welcome. It's an honour to help. Thank you for listening to Pod Hostage Diplomacy. Thank you for giving your time and for showing these families that they're not alone, that there are good caring people out there, willing to stand by their side and help in any way possible.
Richard Ratcliffe 31:38
Because if enough people care, then the right people will care enough. This is a basic rule of thumb that is true for all campaigning.
Daren Nair 31:47
If you haven't already, please subscribe to our fortnightly newsletter called The Hostage Briefing. It's the best way to keep up to date with the cases we're working on as well as new episodes. You can subscribe to this newsletter using the link in the description of this podcast episode that you're currently listening to. Thanks again and take care.