Jamshid Sharmahd: Biden left my father to die, says daughter of prisoner in Iran

Iranian-German citizen has been detained in Tehran for three years and was not included in prisoner swap deal

Gazelle Sharmahd with her father Jamshid 'Jimmy' Sharmahd before he was abducted and imprisoned in Iran. Photo: Gazelle Sharmahd
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The daughter of a US resident under sentence of death in Iran said her father has been “left behind to die” after the Biden administration failed to include him in a hostage release deal with Tehran.

Jamshid “Jimmy” Sharmahd, who holds dual Iranian-German citizenship and American residency, was sidelined in a prisoner exchange deal where $6 billion of Iranian oil money will be unfrozen.

Gazelle Sharmahd told The National US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz owe her family an explanation on the “horrific hostage-abandonment deal”.

Five US citizens detained for years in Iran arrived in Doha on Monday after being freed. They included conservationist Morad Tahbaz, who also holds British citizenship, Siamak Namazi and Emad Sharghi.

The identities of the other two hostages have not been made public.

Mr Tahbaz was left out of a UK-brokered deal with Tehran in 2022 when dual nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were freed.

The UK is understood to have paid a 40-year-old, £400 million debt to Tehran as part of the arrangement.

Deal overshadowed by injustice

As the freed hostages landed in the US on Tuesday, Mr Ashoori told The National he felt “torn when considering the situation from both perspectives”.

He said that while the latest deal had liberated prisoners from what he called “the valley of hell” it also risked enabling Iran to misuse funds to suppress citizens.

Ms Sharmahd said her father and at least two others who hold either US citizenship or residency detained in the secluded nation were “ruthlessly left behind” by the American government.

The father-of-two has been imprisoned in Iran since July 2020 after being convicted of spying and “corruption on earth”, and has been handed a death sentence by the Iranian courts.

“Jimmy is on death row and the sentence may be carried out if the regime deems it politically expedient,” Ms Sharmahd said.

She said the US had a duty to protect its citizens and residents “equally and fairly”. The freedom and rights of Americans should “not just be preserved for a chosen few”, she said.

From left, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak Namazi, former prisoners in Iran, disembark a plane in Doha on Monday after being freed under a US deal. AP

“I am happy for the freedom of every unjustly detained, but my happiness is overshadowed by the immense amount of injustice and threat this negotiation has brought upon the … dozens of other hostages that were left behind,” Ms Sharmahd said.

Sharmahd is understood to be the only US citizen or resident facing the death penalty in Iran, the country of his birth.

His daughter believes her father failed to make the cut in hostage negotiations between the US and Iran because he had been critical of the regime before his arrest.

She said she was exasperated by how the US could ignore the plight of a man who was taken to Iran against his will and who is “tortured year after year in solitary confinement”.

This “hostage is my dad Jimmy and he was left behind to die”, she said.

Campaigners welcomed the deal where the US agree to the release of frozen Iranian assets owed by a third country, South Korea.

The US insisted that Qatar, the prisoner swap’s mediator, will ensure that the money is only spent primarily on food, medicine and agricultural goods that are not subject to sanctions.

Critics said it will be impossible to ensure the funds are spent in accordance with the terms of the deal and the US threat to scrap the deal if Iran breaks its commitment is bogus.

Republicans accused Mr Biden of “funding terrorism” and “shelling out prisoners and cash to Iran”.

'Abandoned in the torture chamber'

After leaving his country of birth in the wake of the 1978-1979 Iranian revolution, Sharmahd settled in Germany with his wife and the family had a son, Shayan.

They moved to California in 2003 where Sharmahd used his skills as a software engineer to build a website for a local Persian language TV station.

He survived a murder attempt, which his family believe was orchestrated by the Iranian government.

Jamshid 'Jimmy' Sharmahd attends his trial at a court in Tehran. AFP

Ms Sharmahd said her father has lost a considerable amount of weight and shown visible signs of torture, including missing teeth.

She stressed the urgency of her father’s case and demanded answers from legislators in the US and Germany about what is being done to release him from the “torture chamber”.

“Our government has failed to explain that when you release an unprecedented amount of money for a few hostages, what do you plan to do now to free the ones you abandon in this negotiation?” she said.

“How do you ensure my dad will be safe and alive and not murdered now?

“Instead of wasting your time on national TV trying to convince us that our hostage takers will use the money for humanitarian reasons, explain to us how and when will you bring Jimmy Sharmahd back home to us?

“The last American patriot left behind in a hostage release in 2015 was Bob Levinson, and we all know that cost him his life.”

Former Iranian hostage Mr Ashoori has told The National he was disappointed his former cellmate Shahab Dalili, who holds US residency, was not included in the prisoner exchange deal.

On Tuesday, Mr Ashoori said: “The agony of spending even a single additional minute in that place defies description.

“However, it is vital to acknowledge that any deal struck with the Islamic regime carries the inherent risk of them using the funds to further suppress their own people or support terrorist organisations worldwide.

“In essence, there is no perfect solution in these cases.”

Mr Ashoori, who was reunited with his family in London in March 2022 after spending five years in Tehran’s Evin prison, said prisoner swap deals fail to address Iran's hostage taking at its core.

Iran’s actions in recent months and years show its policy has “unfortunately proven effective”, he said.

“I firmly believe that the root of this problem can only be eradicated through a unified effort by western governments,” he said. “By creating policies that deter these malevolent actors from committing such heinous acts, we can hope to make lasting change.”

“Until we address this issue at its core, we will regrettably continue to witness episodes like the ones we've experienced,” he added.

Mr Ashoori's daughter Elika Ashoori said western governments should stop paying Iran to secure the release of their citizens.

Ms Ashoori, who campaigned for her father’s release, said while she was happy for the families of relatives set free this week, such deals “validated” Iran’s hostage diplomacy.

“I am personally happy for the families because I know the feeling of having to wait for so long to get to this stage,” she told Radio 4’s Today show.

“But also on a broader level, it’s highly frustrating, because if you think about the amount of money that’s been exchanged and for not even all the American prisoners, I do believe that these negotiations, these deals, as long as they are happening they are validating this practice of hostage diplomacy.”

Updated: September 20, 2023, 7:12 AM