Darian Dalili has not seen his father since 2016, when Shahab traveled to Iran for a family funeral and was detained.
The Dalili family had been hopeful that their seven year nightmare could be coming to an end amid reports that a fourth unnamed American might be included in a deal with Tehran, Darian told CNN. Shahab is an Iranian citizen and a US legal permanent resident.
“But then when the actual official news broke out, all those hopes were crushed,” Darian said.
“The first thing I did, I took my phone and I send out an email to the few people that I had email addresses from in the State Department … and I included this line on the bottom: ‘You are leaving my father to die,’” he added.
The US State Department has said that the five Americans – two of whom remain unnamed – released on house arrest and included in the deal are classified as wrongfully detained – a designation that has not been given to Shahab.
Both father and son launched a multi-day hunger strike and Darian has protested in front of the White House and the State Department in the hopes of getting answers.
“It’s a decision of frustration, of disappointment, and of desperation,” Darian told CNN.
He said his father, who is imprisoned in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, had tried to convince him not to do a hunger strike out of concern about the lasting impact on Darian’s health, but when his son could not be persuaded out of it, Shahab decided to join him. Darian ended his hunger strike on Tuesday out of concern for his 60 year old father’s health because “he’s not giving up until I give up.”
Darian explained that Shahab had worked as a ship captain for trading ships before retiring and coming to the US with his family. He had traveled to Iran to attend his father’s funeral in 2016 and was detained on his way to the airport to return to the United States. When the flight he was supposed to be on arrived back in Washington, Shahab was not on board.
“Basically for the 48 hours or so after his arrest, we didn’t even know if he was alive,” Darian said. “That first 48 hours was the absolute worst of my life.”
The Iranian authorities eventually charged Shahab with aiding and abetting a hostile nation – the same charge given to Siamak Namazi, who was arrested in 2015 and was designated as wrongfully detained by the US government before being transferred to house arrest last week.
Darian said he intends to continue his protest “until we get some sort of some sort of convincing response from the Biden administration,” from someone with the power to make decisions.
“I want to see legitimate steps being taken to at the very, very, very least, designate my father as a wrongfully detained person. It’s been seven years,” he said.
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel confirmed Monday that Shahab “has not yet been determined wrongfully detained,” adding, “we don’t discuss the specific details of individual cases who have not deemed – been deemed wrongfully detained.”
“There is a process that is ongoing as it relates to actively reviewing and assessing individual cases for indicators for wrongful detention. I’m certainly not going to get into those,” he said. Patel said that acting Special Envoy for Iran Abram Paley had spoken with the Dalili family; Darian told CNN that he didn’t give them any answers, and he believes he only got a response because of his email about leaving his father to die.
Asked on Tuesday why Shahab has not yet been designated, Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not answer, saying instead that “we continue to look and will always continue to look at the situations, conditions of other Americans around the world who may be detained.”
CNN’s Kylie Atwood contributed to this report.