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Family of Emad Shargi, American held in Iran, will spend the holidays without him

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We return this morning to the story of an American imprisoned in Iran. We've mentioned Emad Shargi on this program before. Last April, we met his wife, Bahareh Shargi, here in the U.S., in Washington, D.C., in the family's backyard.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BAHAREH SHARGI: His best times were under this cherry blossom tree, which, if you come back in 20 days, is in full bloom - full bloom.

INSKEEP: Eight months have passed since that conversation. The other day, we talked with Bahareh Shargi again, though this time we had to call instead of visit. It would have been nice to go back and sit on your back porch again and see how the tree is doing...

SHARGI: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Although I imagine it's not in bloom anymore.

SHARGI: Not in bloom at all - all the leaves are gone. All of the leaves are gone, indeed, indeed. Winter is here.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Which means it's also winter in Tehran, a city that spreads up a mountainside - on one of the higher slopes are the walls of Evin Prison, behind which her husband is still being held.

SHARGI: He tells us he's doing well, but the hard part about it is that it's been over a year now, and nobody has seen him. So, you know, it's hard to say how he's doing. But he tells us he's well, Steve.

INSKEEP: Emad Shargi is a native of Iran who moved to America, became a U.S. citizen and a businessman. A few years ago, he returned for a time with his wife to Tehran. But Iranian authorities imprisoned Emad on supposed suspicions of espionage. Though his wife was allowed to leave, he remains one of several U.S. citizens in Iranian custody. If there is evidence against them, it's never been shown in public. When we called Bahareh for an update, the main news was that he's been moved from solitary confinement into a shared cell. Sometimes he calls home, and she hears other men's voices or a distant TV.

SHARGI: But other than that, he's still in prison. He's an innocent man who's not being let out to be free. So prison is prison is all I can say.

INSKEEP: Needless to say, he can't tell you everything that he might want to tell you. But do you listen for little clues in his tone of voice or his choice of words to figure out how you think he's really doing?

SHARGI: No, Steve. I mean, after a year and few weeks this time and, you know, eight months the prior time that he was in, there's nothing really to listen for. If anything, he might say, what's happening? And then still, we end up with, everything is fine; the girls are fine; everybody's doing well.

INSKEEP: I think you're telling me that life has come to a stop, and there's very little to say until things change.

SHARGI: It's - that's a way of putting it, Steve, definitely. I mean, we go on about our days. But in a sense, life has stopped four years ago for us. I mean, two graduations have happened. Numerous birthdays have taken place. Holidays have come and gone. And yet, you know, my eyes are still to the door. Yes, in a way, life has stopped for us as a family.

INSKEEP: What, if anything, do you hear from the Iranian government?

SHARGI: We hear nothing from the Iranian government at all.

INSKEEP: Do you feel the U.S. government is doing what it can?

SHARGI: It's a hard question to answer in the sense that, you know, Emad actually says he feels so lucky to be an American. He feels like his government is backing him up and supporting him and wants to bring him home. And yet, for such a enormous government not to be able to bring a man - an innocent American home, I trust that they are doing everything, and yet my husband is not home.

INSKEEP: We're heading into the holidays, into the new year, when a lot of people have an opportunity, if they're lucky, to stop for a little while and see family and take stock. How do you - goodness, I'm sorry - how do you intend to spend the end of the year?

SHARGI: It's difficult. It's been four years now that we haven't been together for any celebrations. These are the times that, let's say, around Thanksgiving or something, that I hear a crack in his voice. He's always putting on this, everything is fine; I am fine. But you know, there are just - emotions flow over at times. The sad emotions, I should say, flow over at times like these, especially. And in fact, because Christmas is very special for Emad and I because the day before Christmas is also our wedding anniversary. So it will be 33 years. And yeah, it's - and yeah, it's hard.

INSKEEP: Where were you when you got married 33 years ago?

SHARGI: We got married in San Francisco, actually.

INSKEEP: What was that like?

SHARGI: I love this question. It brings a smile to my heart just to - I haven't thought of that moment or that day for a long time. Thank you. It was wonderful. It was a glorious time, Steve. And the thing about it is that that young love has evolved over time to something with such depths and roots. And I cannot imagine having a better friend in my life than Emad.

INSKEEP: What would you want your fellow Americans to know about your experience?

SHARGI: When people say, I understand or I feel or something, I always say, I hope you never, ever have to feel anything close to this in your life. It's at times like this that you really realize what a touch means, what a hug means, Steve. When there's a man behind bars and walls - enjoy moments together.

INSKEEP: Bahareh Shargi, thank you very much for taking the time.

SHARGI: Thank you, Steve. As always, thank you very much. I can't wait until I come here with Emad to talk to you.

INSKEEP: Oh.

SHARGI: Or...

INSKEEP: I would love that.

SHARGI: Yes. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARASH FALLAHI'S "INFINITY (BI NAHAYAT)")

INSKEEP: Bahareh Shargi's husband, Emad Shargi, is one of several Americans held in Iran.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARASH FALLAHI'S "INFINITY (BI NAHAYAT)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.