After undergoing a five-day hunger strike in Vienna, Austria, to raise awareness about hostages held in Iran, Barry Rosen, a former-U.S. hostage in Iran, has received wide support and praise from Iranian activists of various faiths living in the United States and Europe for his efforts.

“The Iranian American community stands in solidarity with Barry Rosen because as Americans we share in the anger that our fellow citizens are being taken hostage in Iran and share the frustration at this administration’s unwillingness to prioritize their freedom,” said Cameron Khansarinia, policy director of the National Union for Democracy in Iran, an anti-Iranian regime nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.

Rosen, 77, was one of 52 Americans who were taken hostage by Iranian regime thugs when they seized the U.S. embassy in 1979 during the country’s Islamic Revolution.

Mid-month he traveled to Vienna, where negotiations are taking place between Iranian officials, U.S. State Department representatives and European leaders over the possible renewal of a nuclear deal with Iran. Rosen said he began his hunger strike the day before the 41st anniversary of his release from Iranian captivity in order to raise awareness of the plight of at least a dozen Iranians with dual nationalities, including four Americans, who are detained for no reason in Iran.

In a video posted on Twitter, he indicated her ended his hunger strike on Jan. 23 at the insistence of his family and the request of America’s envoy for the Iran nuclear deal, Rob Malley.

“I’m only one person, but I’m sick and tired of hearing that we can’t do anything for the hostages held in Iran,” said Rosen during his hunger strike. “Why is this Iranian regime still taking hostages after four decades in Iran? So I’m on this hunger strike to raise the public consciousness about those going through hell in the Iranian prisons right now.”

Rosen said he had received support for his efforts from the families of Iranian Americans held captive, some Austrians of Iranian heritage and a wide range of support from Iranians on social media. Various Persian-language satellite news-media outlets in the United States and Europe had been giving extensive coverage of his actions.

During the last year, a small but vocal group of Iranian-Austrians who are opposed to the Iranian regime have been continuously protesting outside of the Palais Coburg hotel in Vienna where the Iran nuclear negotiations have been taking place. Atusa Sabagh, an Iranian Austrian who leads the group, said many Iranians living in Austria were pleased with Rosen’s hunger strike because it has raised the issue of the Iranian regime’s serious human-rights abuses among average Europeans.

“The Iranian people in Iran and Europe are also happy about Mr. Rosen’s arrival and feel that the wide exposure of the Islamic regime’s human-rights violations may result in an agreement not being reached,” said Sabagh, who has not yet met Rosen but has been posting videos of her group’s protests on Twitter and other social-media platforms.

Sabagh said some Iranian Austrians had previously been hesitant to join her group’s protests against the Iranian regime outside the hotel because of their long-standing fear of reprisals from the regime, though many have gradually joined since Rosen began his hunger strike.

Motivated them to begin their own such move

Indeed, Rosen’s hunger strike has inspired and motivated other Iranian activists and journalists to join him by starting their own hunger strike in Vienna in order to raise awareness about the Iranian regime’s malign activities. One such individual, Jamshid Barzegar, a prominent Iranian-British journalist and former head of the BBC Persian-language radio and news website, said he joined Rosen and began his own hunger strike to protest the Iranian regime’s mistreatment of Baktash Abtin—a dissident Iranian poet, writer and filmmaker who recently died due to complications from COVID-19 while jailed in an Iranian prison.

“Currently, more than 20 people inside and outside the country [Austria] have joined our campaign and are on a hunger strike,” said Barzegar. “Leading [Iranian] political and cultural parties, groups and figures have supported our action and this issue has been widely recognized and supported in Persian-language social networks and media.”

Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national who was arrested by the Iranian regime in 2015 when traveling to Iran for a business conference and later released in 2019, also joined Rosen in Vienna and told various Persian-language news media outlets that he has begun his own hunger strike to raise awareness about Iran’s wrongful imprisonment of foreign visitors to Iran.

On Jan. 19, Rosen also met with Harika Ghaderi—the wife of 58-year-old Kamran Ghaderi—an Austrian citizen of Iranian heritage who has been held hostage for six years by the Iranian regime, according to his Twitter post. She has expressed her support for Rosen’s hunger strike and launched her own social-media campaign calling on the Iran regime to release her husband.

Family members of Iranians wrongfully held in prison by the Iranian regime said news of Rosen’s hunger strike has even reached their loved ones in Iran and motivated them to begin their own such move while being held in captivity.

Elika Ashoori, daughter of Anoosheh Ashoori, an Iranian-British citizen imprisoned in Iran, recently posted her own social-media video calling on Americans and Europeans to support Rosen’s calls for her father and other captives of dual nationalities to be released from Iranian prisons.

“My father, who has been held hostage in Iran for the past four-and-a-half years, has decided to join their [Rosen and Zakka] hunger strike from Evin prison [in Iran] starting January 23,” said Elika Ashoori in her video message.

Harika Ghaderi posted a message on Twitter stating that her husband, Kamran has also begun his own hunger strike while imprisoned in Iran after hearing of Rosen’s hunger strike campaign.

The desire for civil dialogue

Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian former reporter for Newsweek who was wrongfully imprisoned and tortured by the Iranian regime for 118 days in 2009, said Rosen has always been respected in the Iranian American community because of his affection for Iran and his desire for a civil dialogue with his former captors.

“Barry is not some extremist who wants to vilify Iranians,” said Bahari, who now heads the U.S.-based IranWire news site. “We shouldn’t forget that Barry was the first former hostage who met one of the hostage-takers, Abbas Abdi, in Paris in 1998. During that conversation, they discussed dialogue among civilization and breaking the walls of mistrust.”

While leaders of the Iranian-American Jewish community in Los Angeles and New York did not return calls for comment, individual Iranian Jewish activists praised Rosen for traveling to Vienna and making a very public campaign about the plight of hostages in Iran.

“It is very rare to find serious international pressures on countries with serious human-rights violations,” said Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist who heads the Los Angeles-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran. “So, without linking human-rights concerns with the present nuclear, strategic and security matters, there will be very few options left to help the victims of this regime.”

Rosen, who spent two years during the late 1960s living in Iran and speaks the Persian language well, said he has sent letters through Austrian officials to the Iranian regime’s delegation in Vienna asking to meet with them to discuss the plight of prisoners but has not received any response back from them.

“I have lived with Iran, learned about their rich culture and fell in love with their country,” he said. “But now I have to direct my love for Iran at pushing this regime to release the hostages because it would not only benefit the regime publicity-wise to do so, but it would help the families of those imprisoned in Iran who have been suffering for so many years.”


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