The relatives of Americans who are unjustly detained are sick and tired of being silent.

At an occasion sponsored by the Bring Our Families Home Campaign in Washington, D.C., on July 20, Alexandra Forseth (left) and Gabriela Zambrano Hill are seen standing in front of a mural of their father, Alirio Jose Zambrano. According to the State Department, Jose Luis Zambrano, their uncle and their father, are both unjustly jailed in Venezuela.

NPR’s Shuran Huang When you inquire about Alexandra Forseth’s father, Alirio Jose Zambrano, a smile spreads across her face. Even though it has been close to five years since their last encounter, she still brings up insignificant details about him, like the Ikea furniture, whenever she speaks about him.

Anyone who knows my dad will agree that there isn’t a person more bothersome when it comes to following the rules, she claims. “It’s simply like, “Oh my god,” and he is an engineer to the letter. He is the one who tells you not to start using your Ikea set until all the parts have been counted.”

It contributes to the fact that she finds almost nothing about his predicament to make sense. not his 2017 detention in Venezuela. nor the 24-hour “express” probe. And definitely not his trial verdict. Zambrano, along with five other Citgo employees located in Houston, are accused of wrongdoing by the Venezuelan government. According to Forseth, her family, and the American government, Zambrano and the other members of the alleged “Citgo 6” were unjustly jailed.

On July 20, in Washington, D.C., during a Bring Our Families Home Campaign gathering, friends and family of Americans who are unjustly incarcerated listen to speeches.

NPR’s Shuran Huang Forseth describes him as “simply a really tenacious person with morals, and there’s not a person he didn’t meet that he wasn’t incredibly motivating.” “It’s just strange. Being in this circumstance is strange. It goes so against his philosophy.”

When her father was originally detained, Forseth used a strategy that had become standard for decades for the families of Americans who had been kidnapped or unjustly detained by state or non-state organizations. After all, in addition to her father, Jose Luis Zambrano, was also jailed. She kept her mouth shut and shied away from the spotlight out of concern that even the smallest slip-up or poorly chosen phrase could jeopardize attempts to gain their release. According to Forseth, the attitude was “don’t rile anyone up.”

Forseth and families like hers are no longer silent today. These families have changed tactics out of frustration with the diplomatic process’ slow progress, fear for the emotional and physical health of their kidnapped relatives, and desperation to be reunited. Instead of remaining silent, they have made the decision that raising awareness of their situation and stepping up political pressure on the White House may be their best and potentially final option.

James Foley’s mother, Diane Foley, claims that families like hers have long been advised to keep quiet. James Foley was an American journalist who was slain by ISIS in 2014.

NPR’s Shuran Huang Diane Foley, whose son, journalist James Foley, was abducted in Syria in 2012 and killed by ISIS in 2014, claims that she and her family were constantly told by the government to remain silent in the hopes that doing so would bring the hostages home. But we’re starting to understand that remaining silent often shields the kidnappers and our government from realizing how much innocent Americans need their government right now.

According to a count by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, Forseth assisted in the launch of the Bring Our Families Home Campaign in May, which aims to persuade President Biden and other leaders to use “any and all means available,” including prisoner trades, to secure the release of the more than 52 Americans who are being held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad. Less than three months later, the effort has expanded to include more than 20 families, including kin of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been imprisoned in Russia since February on drug-related allegations.

A mural depicting Americans who are unjustly jailed was just unveiled in Washington, D.C. by the Bring Our Families Home Campaign. WNBA star Brittney Griner is one of the figures shown on the mural.

Pat Semansky/AP AHA MOMENT FOR ME WAS THE TREVOR REED CASE. According to Mickey Bergman, vice president and executive director of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, families used to never organize themselves in this way. The Bill Richardson Center was established to negotiate the release of captives and hostages held by adversarial governments.

According to Bergman, “It used to be a collection of different families dealing with their own struggle to get their loved ones back home.” “And that’s how it’s always been, in part because each case is so distinctive from the others and because it’s a very personal battle. Additionally, the paths vary.”

The Biden administration’s announcement in April of a prisoner swap with Russia in exchange for the imprisoned American Marine veteran Trevor Reed served as the “aha” moment for some Bring Our Families Home activists. Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot who had been given a sentence of more than 20 years in prison for planning to bring more than $100 million worth of cocaine into the nation, was released in exchange for Reed. Griner and another American arrested in Russia, Paul Whelan, were both offered a similar swap, according to information released by Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.

On March 11, 2020, in Moscow, police officers escort Marine veteran Trevor Reed into a courthouse before a hearing. Reed took part in a prisoner swap with Russia in April as a result of his parents’ public advocacy campaign.

Getty Images via Alexander Nemenov/AFP The Reed exchange happened after Reed’s family launched an unconventional and very visible pressure campaign to get a meeting with President Biden. According to Reed’s parents, the president called them after they demonstrated outside a Biden event in Texas in March. Later that month, after they held a protest outside the White House, Biden met with them for 40 minutes. Reed was released after a few weeks.

Families experienced a “glass-shattering moment,” according to Bergman.

The Reed family did not follow the regulations, he claims, which was different. “They had a tendency to be obnoxious, loud, and rude when necessary. They pressed the subject and were insistent.”

Emad Sharghi, Neda Sharghi’s elder brother, has been held captive in Iran since 2018.

by Shuran Huang for NPR In front of a mural of her brother Emad, Neda Sharghi is pictured. She says, “I’m so afraid I’ll never see my brother again.

NPR’s Shuran Huang When Neda Sharghi learned of Reed’s release, she was driving. Sharghi’s older brother, Emad Shargi, has been held captive in Iran since 2018, and she has lobbied for a meeting with President Biden to discuss his issue, along with other Bring Our Families Home activists.

“According to Sharghi, “it was like a lightning moment because they were pretty outspoken and sort of doing the kinds of things that we hadn’t done in the past, like directly appealing to the president, conducting events, and using strategies that we had never utilized. And to be completely honest, we didn’t think they would succeed.”

Families are reconsidering their influence-exertion strategies. Although the Reed case may have given families clarity, it didn’t necessarily make the choice to speak out more easily. Families have been presented with a binary choice for years: keep quiet and trust what may be a drawn-out and arduous diplomatic process, or raise awareness and run the danger of the captors raising their price. In fact, a lot of families still think their best course of action is to run a far less visible campaign.

“Of course, a public advocate runs the risk of increasing that person’s worth to that government or captor. That is the risk, then. The danger is that. It’s also a large one “Foley remarks.

Sharghi and others are well aware of the risk.

She says, “It’s really, really scary.” “Days, weeks, and months go by as you’re engaging in “this” mental process, and suddenly you find yourself asking, “OK, where has this led me?” As you speak with those who have experienced this, they advise you to go public.”

Matthew Heath’s mother, Connie Haynes, talks about her son’s imprisonment in a Venezuelan jail at a gathering thrown by the Bring Our Families Home campaign.

Families have increasingly come to the realization that there is little they personally can say to persuade a captive one way or the other, according to Shuran Huang for NPR Bergman. He and others also cite research as evidence that the United States’ policy of making no concessions does not, by itself, discourage a possible captor.

“There isn’t much they can say that will hurt the people they care about. And the reason for such is that the kidnappers do not consider each family individually “Bergman declares. “They want to exact political punishment and receive political compensation from our government. Therefore, if you comprehend or accept this, it follows that any media strategy or media engagement by a family of a prisoner in the United States is actually directed at our own administration. The captors are not the target of it.”

At the inauguration of a painting depicting the faces of Americans who are unjustly jailed, Connie Haynes hugs Tejkaran Kaur Bains. The James W. Foley Legacy Foundation has conducted a tally of the number of Americans being held captive or unjustly detained abroad.

What the White House is doing, Shuran Huang for NPR It’s a lesson that Forseth claims she and others have gradually learned to internalize.

“The main issue, in my opinion, is that this government in especially has demonstrated a high degree of reactivity in their actions and in how they handle their agenda, whether it be correct or wrong. You can see that more plainly than virtually anything else in the field of hostage diplomacy “she claims.

Families claim that it extends beyond the Reed case. For instance, earlier this month, Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, spoke on CBS about how Biden had ignored a handwritten note from the WNBA star appealing for assistance.

The following day, Griner’s wife received a phone call from Biden and Vice President Harris.

According to Forseth, “even if we all try to be calm, professional, and give others the benefit of the doubt, what they’re teaching is that you only get attention if you’re the squeaky wheel.”

The White House has made an effort to dispel this notion. Prior to Reed’s release, the administration worked to gain the release of two men: Jorge Alberto Fernandez and Gustavo Cardenas, both of whom were members of the Citgo 6 from Venezuela. The Biden administration also published a new executive order earlier this month that, among other things, gives government organizations permission to use visa bans and financial sanctions as a weapon to secure the release of detained Americans.

0 According to its supporters, the Bring Our Families Home Campaign has enabled the families of Americans who are unjustly held to speak with one voice.

NPR’s Shuran Huang Administrators warn that no two cases are the same, therefore families and negotiators must be adaptable.

“In some circumstances, you’ll discover a sanctioning tool is likely highly efficient at applying pressure to the opposing party. Occasionally, not so much, “said Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Roger Carstens in an interview with NPR.


“Once more, it actually depends on the country. Sometimes, as in the instance of Trevor Reed, a prisoner transfer can be considered “Carstens says. Other times, it’s just completely the incorrect instrument and negotiation position to use.

Forseth argues that this is precisely why President Biden must visit with families whose loved ones are jailed in the same nation.

On that, she continues, “I think we can all agree.” “To me, that seems like a softball question. I believe you can meet with American citizens who are suffering because their loved ones are Americans if you have time to meet with a K-pop group.”


1 At a July 20 gathering in Washington, D.C., Roger Carstens, the special presidential envoy for hostage problems, embraced the loved ones of Americans who were unjustly kidnapped.

NPR’s Shuran Huang Bring Our Families Home will carry on with its planning till that time. According to the campaign’s supporters, families are now able to speak with one voice. And although though it’s a club that nobody wants to ever have to join, it has developed into a kind of emotional support system that they are grateful to have.

People are tremendously sympathetic, but Sharghi advises not burdening them with the terror in your own life. “I’m terrified that I won’t ever see my brother again. My nighttime sleep is terrible. I experience nightmares. You start stuffing a lot of things inside, you start to isolate yourself, and you start to distance yourself from circumstances that you wouldn’t typically do that.”

According to her, it can drag a person into a dark place. However, the campaign has offered her a means to get in touch with families who can not only support her in her struggle for her brother but also fully understand what she is going through.

She claims that she does not feel as like she is burdening them with her or our problems. They understand.

Given that it has been more than four years since Sharghi last saw her brother, that kind of support is priceless. She claims that maintaining optimism has been more difficult the longer he has been imprisoned.

“If you had asked me last summer, I would have said that I was tremendously optimistic. We anticipated his return last summer, “she claims. I’m incredibly losing hope, but that only motivates me to work harder and harder.

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