Watch CBS News

Family of Emad Shargi, American held in Iran, urges Biden to do more to secure release

Family of American held in Iran urges Biden to do more
Family of Emad Shargi, American held in Iran, urges Biden to do more to secure release 10:03

Washington — The wife and two daughters of Emad Shargi, an American who has been detained in Iran for more than four years, are urging the White House and President Biden to step up their efforts to secure his release and return him to the United States.

In an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Hannah Shargi, Emad's daughter, said her family has not met or spoken to Mr. Biden since publicly requesting a meeting this summer. The Shargis have asked to sit down with the president both as a family and alongside other families whose loved ones are detained abroad. 

The president met with the families of Brittney Griner and Trevor Reed before they were released from Russia, as well as the family of Paul Whelan, who remains held in the country. He has also met with the family of Austin Tice, who has been missing in Syria since 2012. In recent months, the families of Americans held in Iran have been requesting their own meetings with Mr. Biden.

"I just don't understand why he isn't meeting with us. I think it would make a big difference to sit down with him," Hannah Shargi said. "I want to tell him about my dad. I want to tell him how scared we are, how pressing this matter is and how time sensitive it really is."

While Hannah Shargi noted that her family speaks often with the State Department, she said Mr. Biden's involvement is crucial.

"At the end of the day, I think what we really need as the White House to be more involved. That is really where the decision is going to come from," she said. "At the end of the day, the president has the authority to make these kinds of big decisions. And that's really who we need to speak with now."

Hannah Shargi said her father could have been killed in a fire that broke out in October at Tehran's Evin prison, where he is being held. At least eight people were killed in the blaze. It took two days before the family received word that Shargi was safe. 

Siamak Namazi, another American held for the past seven years in Evin prison, also survived the blaze. Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American who was arrested in Iran in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, was not present in the prison during the fire.

Hannah Shargi said her father inhaled tear gas and smoke from the blaze, underscoring the "pressing" nature of securing his release.

"There's really no time to wait," she said. 'We don't know, really, what's going to happen day to day. So I just want to sit down with the president and tell him our story and ask that he does everything he can to bring our dad home. I mean, we live in Washington, D.C. We'll come any time he has available for us."

Emad Shargi, an American-Iranian dual citizen, was first imprisoned in 2018. While he was released on bail and cleared of charges, Iranian authorities refused to give back his American passport, and he remained in Iran. In November 2020, Shargi was told he had been convicted in absentia on charges that remain unclear to the family and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Complicating matters is the deterioration of already troubled U.S.-Iran relations following the collapse of nuclear talks, Tehran's recent alliance with Russia and the regime's crackdown on protests that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died in custody for allegedly not covering her head in compliance with Islamic law.

The Biden administration argues it has kept hostage negotiations separate from the other diplomatic efforts and still hopes for a breakthrough. A hostage swap between the U.S. and Iran has been floated, but U.S. officials tell CBS News that Tehran had made extreme and unacceptable demands.  

In an interview with CBS News in June, the Shargi family urged Mr. Biden to set aside politics and do what he could to bring Emad Shargi back to the U.S.

Their renewed appeal to the president Sunday comes after Griner, a WNBA star, was released from Russia in a prisoner exchange with Viktor Bout, a notorious international arms dealer who was serving a 25-year sentence in the U.S. Griner landed in Texas early Friday, and her release has drawn attention to other Americans who remain unjustly detained overseas.

Bahareh Shargi, Emad's wife, told "Face the Nation" that she was "ecstatic" to hear of Griner's release.

"Brittney should have never been detained, she's an American citizen that was in Russia for no good reason at all. And I was very, very happy that she's back home," she said. "It also gives me hope because it means that this can be done for others, such as my husband and other Americans who are held in Iran."

But Bahareh Shargi said she has been hopeful that Mr. Biden would help secure her husband's release since the first weeks of his presidency, when he said he would prioritize freeing Americans wrongfully held abroad.

"I've had this hope in my heart that this president is going to bring Emad home. And yet I have seen no signs," she said. "It's just been talk, but nothing really to show us that he's doing anything or his administration, really, to bring Emad and the other Americans home."

Compounding the family's frustration was White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre's unfamiliarity with Emad's case when she was asked last Thursday what Mr. Biden is doing to free Americans held in Iran.

Jean-Pierre told reporters that she did not know his specific case and therefore could not speak to whether there has been any outreach from the White House to the family. She reiterated Mr. Biden's commitment to securing the release of American citizens who are wrongfully detained abroad.

Hannah Shargi, though, said it was "definitely hard to hear that she did not know my father's name." 

"She was not familiar with the case, and deferred us to the State Department. Once again," she said. "She was asked the same question in June, and also said that she was not familiar with his name or the case. And I just don't understand how I should have faith that my dad's going to be home, if the White House doesn't even know his name."

Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Sunday that the White House "committed to a meeting with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan prior to the release of Brittney Griner on Thursday." The Shargi family confirmed to CBS News that NSC officials have reached out to invite them to meet with Sullivan.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.