Hostage Briefing - 20 February 2023

published7 months ago
5 min read

Dear friend,

Welcome to our Hostage Briefing newsletter. French hostage in Iran, Benjamin Briére has been on hunger strike since 28 January. He is putting his life in danger to protest his wrongful imprisonment in Iran since May 2020. On our latest episode, we interview his sister, Blandine Briére again to find out how we can help bring him home. As usual, we also have updates on hostage and wrongful detention cases from around the world.

New Episode Out Now

French citizen, Benjamin Briére has been on hunger strike since 28 January. He has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran since May 2020. He is one of seven French citizens currently held in Iran. The French government has referred to them as state hostages.

Iran is notorious for arresting innocent foreign nationals on false charges and putting them in prison for years for the purpose of extracting concessions from their home country. This abhorrent practice is state-sponsored hostage taking also known as hostage diplomacy.

On this episode, we speak once again to Benjamin's sister, Blandine Briére who tells us what needs to be done to bring her brother back home to France.

Last month, Blandine and the other families of French hostages in Iran held a rally in Paris urging the Iranian regime to release their loved ones. She talks about this rally, her brother's hunger strike, what the Iranian authorities, French government and European Union should do as well as how journalists and the public can help free Benjamin Briére.

Hostage & Wrongful Detention News

Philip Mehrtens, New Zealand pilot held hostage in Papua, Indonesia

  • On 8 February, Reuters reported that separatist fighters in Indonesia's Papua region have taken a New Zealand pilot hostage after setting a small commercial plane alight when it landed in a remote highland area. The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement seen by Reuters, saying the pilot would not be released until the Indonesian government acknowledged the independence of West Papua, which refers to the western side of New Guinea island.

Saad Almadi, U.S. citizen held in Saudi Arabia has sentence increased from 16 years to 19 years

  • On 8 February, the Daily Mail reported that Saad Almadi, a U.S. citizen has seen his time behind bars extended from 16 years to 19 years after he was imprisoned for a series of tweets criticising the Saudi government. Almadi, a 72-year-old retired project manager who was living in Florida, was arrested in November 2021 while visiting family in Saudi Arabia. If he serves out his entire sentence, including a travel ban, he will need to live until he is 107 before he is able to return to the U.S.

Nicaragua expels 222 political prisoners to the United States including one American

  • On 9 February, Kylie Atwood, a CNN journalist reported that Nicaragua had released 222 political prisoners including one of whom is a U.S. citizen to the United States. Kylie's tweet includes a statement from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The following is a part of that statement:
    • "Today, the United States welcomes 222 individuals who had been imprisoned by the Government of Nicaragua for exercising their fundamental freedoms and have endured lengthy unjust detentions. The release of these individuals, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, by the Government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern."
  • On the same day, Amnesty International released the following statement made by Erika-Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International:
    • "While we share our excitement at the fact that those removed to the United States are no longer behind bars in Nicaragua, we are shocked and saddened that their detention has culminated in such a disturbing fashion. Those detained spent days, months and years in arbitrary detention, under extreme conditions, and today have been forced into exile solely for demanding human rights."

Fariba Adelkhah, French academic held in Iran released from Evin Prison

  • On 10 February, French academic Fariba Adelkhah who has been wrongfully imprisoned in Iran since 5 June 2019 was released from Iran's notorious Evin Prison. The French Foreign Ministry released a statement welcoming her release and reiterated their demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all French nationals arbitrarily detained in Iran.
  • The Free Fariba Support Committee tweeted confirming her release the same day.
  • We interviewed Fariba's colleague, Sandrine Perrot in February 2022. To learn more about Fariba Adelkhah's wrongful imprisonment in Iran and how you can help, listen to this episode here.
  • The conditions of Fariba's release are still unclear. We are unaware if she is able to leave Iran and return to France to be reunited with her loved ones. The following is a photo of Fariba shortly after her release from Evin Prison:

American and Marine veteran held in Russia, Paul Whelan will turn 53 years old on 5th March

  • Paul Whelan, an American and former U.S. Marine has been wrongfully imprisoned in Russia since December 2018. The U.S. State Department has classified him as 'wrongfully detained'. We have interviewed his sister, Elizabeth Whelan on our podcast more times than anyone else. You can listen to our most recent interview with Elizabeth which took place in December last year here.
  • Paul will be turning 53 years old on 5th March. His family have asked people to write to Paul wishing him a happy birthday. The following is a Facebook post from Elizabeth with more details including the address to send your letters to:

Majd Kamalmaz, American psychotherapist held hostage in Syria

  • 15 February marked six years since American citizen and psychotherapist, Majd Kamalmaz was taken hostage in Syria. He was detained at a Syrian government checkpoint in Damascus and his family have not heard from or seen him since.
  • We interviewed Majd's daughter, Maryam Kamalmaz in October 2021. You can listen to that interview here to learn more and find out how you can help.

Olivier Dubois, French journalist held hostage in the Sahel region of Africa

  • French journalist, Olivier Dubois has been held hostage by a jihadist armed group in the Sahel region of Africa since 8 April 2021. 47-year-old Olivier who was born in Paris has been working as a journalist in Mali since 2015. He was abducted in Gao, Mali.
  • His family have started a petition calling for his release. Please sign this petition here.

U.S. Senators introduce 'Supporting Americans Wrongfully or Unlawfully Detained Abroad Act of 2023'.

  • On 17 February, a group of bipartisan U.S. Senators introduced legislation to bolster support for American families advocating for the release of their loved ones wrongfully or unlawfully detained abroad. The 'Supporting Americans Wrongfully or Unlawfully Detained Abroad Act of 2023' authorises the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs at the State Department to cover the costs of travel to Washington D.C. for family members of Americans who are wrongfully or unlawfully detained abroad. The legislation also provides that the Department make available mental health support for detainees and their families.
  • You can find further details here as well as the text of the legislation here.

Ways To Help

  • Sign the petition to free Benjamin Briére and Olivier Dubois.
  • As always, if you live in a country with a fellow citizen wrongfully detained or held hostage abroad, please call or write to your politicians asking what they're doing to free this person and what are they doing to make sure this doesn't happen again to other citizens like you.
  • Please share our episodes or this Hostage Briefing with at least three of your friends.

This newsletter is the best way to keep up to date with our work including the cases we're working on. If you haven't already, please do subscribe to this newsletter here. If you have any questions, you can get in touch here.

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about hostage diplomacy and for showing the hostages and their families that they're not forgotten, that they're not alone, that there are good caring people out there who want to help.

Best Wishes,

Daren Nair

Creator & Host of Pod Hostage Diplomacy.

Pod Hostage Diplomacy

We work to free hostages and the unjustly detained around the world. Sign up to get our Hostage Briefing newsletters with details of new episodes, news reports on hostage and wrongful detention cases as well as ways to help.

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