Families of Americans held abroad want more help, information

By Thomson Reuters Apr 30, 2024 | 11:41 AM

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Families of Americans still detained in foreign countries despite recent prisoner swaps arranged by the Biden administration pleaded on Tuesday at least for more information about their loved ones, while waiting and hoping for their release.

“I literally have no idea what steps are being taken to rescue my husband,” Anna Corbett, whose husband Ryan Corbett has been detained in Afghanistan, told a congressional committee.

“We can and must do better for our loved ones,” she said.

Corbett was one of relatives and representatives of nine Americans detained abroad – in Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Russia, China and Nigeria – who testified at an emotional House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee roundtable.

The panel was one of several recent events held to highlight the cases of Americans held for years in foreign prisons, including a sit-in protest at the White House, and for some, call for formal designation of their loved ones as “wrongfully detained.”

Ryan Corbett was arrested by the Taliban in August 2022 after he returned to Afghanistan to pay and train his staff, his lawyers said last week when they sought U.N. help to secure his release, contending he has been tortured and is suffering health problems.

Corbett was designated as wrongfully detained in October, which elevates a case to the special presidential envoy for hostages affairs to lead efforts to win release.

Gazelle Sharmahd, whose father Jamshid Sharmahd, has been sentenced to death in Iran, said she wanted Congress to use its power to get more information from the administration. “When you are out there and ask the same questions, they cannot ignore you,” she said.

Paul Beckett, assistant editor at the Wall Street Journal, spoke on behalf of Evan Gershkovich, a journalist for the newspaper arrested in March 2023. Beckett said he was grateful Evan had been quickly designated as “wrongfully detained” and said he hoped every American detained abroad could be brought home.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis)