We were hostages in Iran. America can prevent more stories like ours

Iran is a country rich in culture, beauty, and architectural marvels, so it’s no wonder it continues to attract American travelers on tours organized by American travel agencies. But the American people deserve to know the truth. Due to the regime’s long-standing hostage-taking policy, a rewarding visit to World Heritage sites could easily end behind bars in a Tehran prison. Both Americans and Europeans run the risk of being caught and detained for months or years, just as we both were, 39 years apart.

The State Department is clear on the risk in its Iran Travel Advisory, warning against all travel to Iran “due to the risk of kidnapping and arbitrary arrest and detention of American citizens.” The UK, Australia, Canada and European countries are issuing similarly stern warnings. Nevertheless, many American and European companies ignore or even undermine this instruction by promising potential tourists a safe and wonderful adventure.

A group, United Against Nuclear Iran, has identified and contacted nearly a dozen companies peddling tours to Iran as well as major industry accrediting bodies to protest what it sees as deceptive marketing practices. and unnecessarily reckless. These companies paint happy, rosy pictures of immersive travel experiences in the Islamic Republic, a ‘rich and rewarding destination’ of ‘legendary capitals of ancient empires’, ‘great architecture’ and ‘warm, lively and friendly people’. “. Intrepid Travel invites its customers to “discover an Iran beyond media portrayals of a repressive and austere regime”, while San Francisco’s Geographic Expeditions (GeoEx) simply encourages its customers to “go now!”

Somehow, warnings about Iran’s penchant for hostage-taking are absent from all this promotional literature. Such disclaimers should be the minimum requirement for membership with the two flagship tourism accrediting bodies in the United States, the US Tour Operator Association (USTOA) and the American Society for Travel Advisors (ASTA). The USTOA Code of Ethical Conduct requires members to represent “all facts, conditions, and requirements relating to tours and vacation packages truthfully and accurately.” Likewise, ASTA requires that “members be factual and accurate when providing information about their services.” Both USTOA and ASTA have many travel agencies that promote Iran tours.

These companies carry out dangerous, unethical and naïve activities. None have stopped selling expensive travel packages despite the risk of potential criminal negligence if one of their guests were kidnapped – as we were – or violated US sanctions. California-based company Far Horizons simply replied that it “has been taking bands to Iran since 2000 and never had any problems. We have no intention of getting involved in Iranian politics.”

Iran requires Americans to obtain an Iranian sponsor or work with a travel agency in Iran to process their visa. Some of these Iranian travel agencies collaborate with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, which the one that this article’s co-author, Michael White, can attest to is responsible for. of his own bogus arrest in Iran.

Iran’s national flag is seen in front of the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during the agency’s Board of Governors meeting in Vienna on March 1, 2021.

Mr. White was sentenced to 10 years in prison and eventually released as a bargaining chip.

Travel and tour companies simply ignore both the commercial risk and the fact that hostage-taking is a central part of Iran’s diplomatic and national security strategy. What began in November 1979 at the United States Embassy in Tehran continues uninterrupted today. Yomadic, another travel company, even offers a tour inside the grounds of the former embassy where co-author Barry Rosen was tortured and forced to undergo mock executions. Iran’s tourism minister was one of the students who took part in the seizure of the embassy compound and is being sanctioned by the United States.

Currently, at least six Americans are being held hostage by the Iranian regime: Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Karan Vafadari, Afarin Niasari and Morad Tahbaz. The body of another, Robert Levinson, is also being held. The community of former hostages and families of current hostages is small and tight-knit. All of us would tell you that it is absolutely and completely dangerous to travel to Iran.

This subject hurts us. The Iranian regime has built an industry of hostage taking with no regard for innocent lives. He abused and oppressed a proud and accomplished society, cast aside an ancient tradition of welcoming guests, and turned his nation into perhaps the riskiest outside of North Korea. These regimes do not see tourists as people, but as commodities that can be owned and exploited for money, diplomatic concessions and the release of Iranian criminals convicted under due process and imprisoned abroad. .

Despite the pain this may cause some Iranian-Americans and future travelers, we must conclude that the United States should ban Americans from traveling to Iran. There is precedent for such action. The Biden administration has upheld the Trump-era ban against using US passports to travel to North Korea that was imposed after the kidnapping, detention and death of US student Otto Warmbier.

Our elected leaders have a responsibility to protect the American people and our national security. The recklessness of a small group of tour operators undermines both, and the United States cannot afford to provide the Iranian regime with more leverage to secure concessions that will further its nuclear extortion, fund its sponsorship of terrorism, and further abet hostage-taking.

If tour operators are not voluntarily closing tours, the government must do it for them.

Barry Rosen, the last American press secretary in Iran, was one of 52 Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981. He is a senior adviser to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and a founding member of Hostage Aid Worldwide. Michael White, is a United States Navy veteran who was held hostage in Iran from 2018 to 2020.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors.

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