Families of Americans detained abroad rally at the White House

In a call to action, families of Paul Whelan and recently released Trevor Reed gather to raise awareness

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The families of more than a dozen Americans wrongfully detained abroad gathered in front of the White House on Wednesday to bring attention to their loved ones' plights.

The ad hoc group — a “club that no one wants to be in” — is calling on President Joe Biden to do what is necessary to bring their family members home.

“We are very grateful to the administration for all of their communication with the hostage families,” said Ariana Shargi, whose father, Emad Shargi, was detained in Iran in April 2018.

Elizabeth Whelan, sister of US Marine Corps veteran and Russian prisoner Paul Whelan, speaks at a news conference near the White House alongside families of Americans currently being held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas. AP

“We do ask that they keep their promise and that they bring our loved ones home.”

Ms Shargi said much of her adult life has been defined by her father’s wrongful imprisonment.

“It’s been extremely difficult,” Ms Shargi told The National. “It is hard to grow up through your young adulthood without your dad who, throughout my childhood and our childhood was the biggest support in our lives.”

Mr Shargi, an Iranian-American businessman, was detained on espionage charges and is currently being held in Iran’s notorious Evin prison.

He is one of at least four Americans “unlawfully” detained in Iran.

The family of Morad Tahbaz, a British-American environmentalist jailed in Iran for more than four years, said they are “begging the Biden administration to pull through and help prioritise bringing him home”.

Mr Tahbaz’s daughter, Tara, said the family feels abandoned by the UK government, especially after the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, both British citizens who had been jailed in Iran for years.

“My father was abandoned,” Ms Tahbaz told The National.

“It’s like a really long nightmare,” said Mr Tahbaz’s son, Teymoor.

“You’re really just living everyday hoping at the end of the day you’re getting a phone call saying, ‘hey your father is on a plane and he’s on his way home’ but sadly that day has not yet come.”

That day did come for Joey Reed, whose son, Trevor, was released last week from a Russian prison through a prisoner exchange.

Mr Reed said Trevor, who is recovering from his ordeal at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, demanded that the family be present in Washington for Wednesday's event to support the other families of wrongfully detained Americans.

“It's a little embarrassing because Trevor has now been freed,” said Mr Reed. “And you know, and they're feeling left out, but we just want to assure him that that's why we came here is to speak about Trevor's success in being released and that we want that for all of them and we're here with them even though Trevor has already been released.”

He said the US government needs stronger legislation that dictates how the US helps wrongfully detained citizens abroad.

“We need to codify it so that politics don't come into it,” he told The National.

Despite being from different parts of the US, with loved one being held in several countries around the world, there was a palpable camaraderie among the families demonstrating in front of the White House.

“It's really incredible,” said Ms Shargi. “Everyone here supports each other, and no one really knows what we're going through quite like we do.”

Updated: May 04, 2022, 6:56 PM
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