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American Baquer Namazi, detained in Iran, needs surgery "within a week" to avoid fatal stroke

Lawyers for an ailing, elderly Iranian-American who has been detained by Iran since 2016 are appealing to the United Nations for immediate intervention to evacuate him for lifesaving emergency surgery.

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FILE: Baquer Namazi

In a letter addressed to the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health within the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights office and obtained by CBS News, 84-year-old Baquer Namazi's U.S.-based lawyers wrote Monday that he requires "immediate surgery for a 95–97% blockage in one of his internal carotid arteries — the pair of main arteries that supply blood to the brain." 

Namazi's lawyer, Jared Genser, told reporters on Monday that Namazi's family only learned of his worsening arterial blockage in the past few days. "The situation for Baquer is dire. He requires surgery within the next 7-10 days," Genser said.

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FILE: Baquer and Siamak Namazi CBS News

The lawyers' letter to the U.N. states that if Namazi remains in the country, he will be subject to ongoing high stress levels that would compromise his full recovery after surgery. Iran's healthcare system has struggled to cope with the pandemic, and therefore his family also fears that he would very likely contract Covid-19 if he were to undergo surgery in an Iranian hospital.

Namazi has suffered a dozen hospitalizations while in captivity, including emergency surgery to install a pacemaker. He was then placed on a highly restrictive medical furlough in Iran in 2018. Namazi's son, Babak Namazi, revealed in February that the Iranian judiciary had then closed his father's case and commuted his sentence to time served in early 2020 because of his deteriorating health. However, Iranian authorities have continued to arbitrarily deny him a passport to otherwise allow him to leave the country, effectively keeping him captive.

He has developed stress-induced, adult-onset epilepsy as well as severe depression as a result of his detention, putting him at high risk of suffering a stroke, his lawyers said. 

"Iran's leaders have known intimately for years about Baquer's declining health, and they are therefore fully, completely, and totally responsible for anything that happens to him now," Genser argued. 

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Babak Namazi said, "We have lived every day with the fear this could be his last."

Fighting back tears, he added that watching his father's detention from afar while he underwent hospitalizations and emergency surgeries was "a type of torture I would not want to wish upon my worst enemy."

Baquer Namazi worked as a UNICEF representative for over a decade. "He dedicated himself to helping the world's most vulnerable populations," Babak Namazi said. "When he wasn't involved in humanitarian efforts, he poured himself wholeheartedly into the role he viewed as most important in his life — being a grandparent."

"His grandchildren miss him. I miss him. The situation is getting worse and worse," Babak Namazi said. He called on Iran "to let us spend whatever small amount of time he has left with his family, my brother Siamak included."

Asked by CBS News whether Namazi's lawyers and family had contacted the Biden administration ahead of their letter to the U.N., Genser said they had been in touch with Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and they have also asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to personally engage with Namazi's case. He also argued there is now an urgent need for President Biden to personally engage with U.N. Secretary Antonio Guterres and to reach out to allies in the region to pressure Iran. 

In 2016, the Obama administration negotiated a high-profile multiple prisoner swap with Iran that freed four Americans, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, but that still left Baquer's other son, Siamak Namazi, behind. Baquer, who was trying to visit and secure Siamak's release at the time, was then detained by the regime shortly after.

Siamak, who turns 50 this month, is America's longest-held Iranian hostage and remains in Evin Prison. His lawyers say that he has been beaten, tased, and forced to watch distressing footage including some that shows his father in captivity. The family also fear he is constantly exposed to Covid-19 in prison, and say that his requests to visit his father have been repeatedly denied.

At an event in July organized by the non-governmental organization Hostages Aid, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that the Biden administration doesn't want a "partial deal" that would leave anyone behind, but rather a deal where all remaining American hostages will come home together. Iranian-Americans Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz also remain detained in Iran.  

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday, "We've continued to work these cases and to raise concerns together with our international partners and allies." 

"The safe return of these Americans, who've been unjustly held in Iran for far too long has been, and will continue to be a top priority of this administration as long as these individuals are held against their will." 

Margaret Brennan contributed reporting.

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