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Interview With Lawyer For Siamak Namazi Jared Genser; Interview With Washington Post Opinion Writer Jason Rezaian; Interview With International Crisis Group's Iran Project Ali Vaez; Interview With "While We Watched" Subject Ravish Kumar; Interview With "While We Watched" Director Vinay Shukla. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired August 10, 2023 - 13:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what is coming up.


SIAMAK NAMAZI, PRISONER, EVIN PRISON: I spent months caged. I spent months caged in a solitary cell.


AMANPOUR: After seven years, he any other the American prisoners are out of Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, but not totally free just yet. We get

all the latest ahead. And bring you the heartfelt plea from Siamak Namazi who called this program in March, desperately pleading for his release.

Plus --


RAVISH KUMAR, SUBJECT, "WHILE WE WATCHED": The climate war is very vicious.


AMANPOUR: -- is journalism isn't dead in India? Hari Sreenivasan talks to a prominent news anchor and the director of a new film, "While We Watched"

on the press freedom crisis in the world's largest democracy.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

And we begin with the huge break in a story that we have been covering for years. A group of Americans imprisoned in Iran have just been released from

Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, including the longest held, 51-year-old Siamak Namazi, who has been languishing there for more than seven years.

According to his lawyer, they have moved to house arrest, pending their freedom to leave the country potentially several weeks from now. The United

States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, but the Swiss act for the interest there and the Persian Gulf State of Qatar was also involved in

facilitating this release.

After being left behind in three previous prisoner swaps, Siamak went to extraordinary lengths on this show five months ago making a public appeal

for his release and that of his fellow Iranian Americans, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz. Here's how it all unfolded.


AMANPOUR: It was a heartfelt plea heard around the world.

SIAMAK NAMAZI, PRISONER, EVIN PRISON: Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear

our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So, this is a desperate measure. I'm clearly nervous.


AMANPOUR: Siamak Namazi was Iran's longest held American prisoner. He was arrested in 2015 while on a business trip and then sentenced to 10 years

while "collaborating with a hostile state." Namazi, a dual citizen, always denied the charge and Washington in accused Iran of wrongfully detaining

him. This was the desperate appeal he made to us from inside Evin Prison in our unprecedented conversation.


NAMAZI: I think the very fact that I've chosen to take this risk and appear on CNN from Evin Prison, it should just tell you how dire my

situation has become by this point. I spent months caged. I spent months caged in my solitary cell that was the size of a closet, sleeping on the

floor, being fed like a dog from the under the door. And honestly, that was the least of my troubles.


AMANPOUR: Siamak's elderly father, Baquer, who is now 86, was lured to Iran in 2016 with the promise of seeing his son. Instead, he too was

arrested, imprisoned for two years and then barred from leaving the country. He was finally allowed out last October to seek medical treatment

abroad. He's never stopped publicly campaigning for his son's release.


BAQUER NAMAZI, FATHER OF IMPRISONED AMERICAN CITIZEN: I will never truly be free until Siamak is here beside me. I could not be more proud of his

courage, but I don't want him to have to be brave anymore. I want him to be safe. I want him to be free, to live life he should have been living for

the past seven years. I want him to be home.


AMANPOUR: Among the other hostages released along with Namazi, a businessman, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz who have both been held for more

than five years. They say that they never so much as jaywalked and they were held only as Americans to be traded on the geopolitical market.

Before their release, their families try to rally support.



NEDA SHARGI, SISTER OF EMAD SHARGI: I know that they are desperate, that they are scared, and they feel like they have been forgotten. They have

been determined, officially by the Department of State, by our secretary of state, as having been taken, detained by the Iranians for one reason and

that is because they are Americans.

TARA TAHBAZ, DAUGHTER OF MORAD TAHBAZ: My father is an amazing person. He is so calm, so kind, so generous, so noble. And I think just how my

siblings and I have been able to carry ourselves through this surreal nightmare is just a testament to him in my mother and everything they have

instilled in us and who they are.


AMANPOUR: Former New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, who advocates for some of these families, puts it bluntly.


BILL RICHARDSON, FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: And this has happened in Russia, Venezuela, Iran, North Korea, it's a pattern, it's a new hostage

diplomacy that we have to start confronting.

NAMAZI: Just do what's to end this nightmare and bring us home. Thank you.

AMANPOUR: We'll get that message out, Siamak.


AMANPOUR: These few may finally have been released, but will they be the last American hostages taken by Tehran?

Now, today, is a long time coming for that Namazi family and his lawyer, Jared Genser, who worked doggedly for his release, constantly pushing it to

the forefront of the U.S. government agenda. And Jared Genser is joining me now. He's a human rights lawyer and he's taken his case on pro bono.

Jared, welcome to the program. Just describe your feelings right now, your hopes. Are the temperate? Tell me what you know.

JARED GENSER, LAWYER FOR SIAMAK NAMAZI: Well, look, I mean, this is obviously an important step forward and, you know, that the American

hostages -- the four American hostages have been released to a house arrest. It's obviously an exciting moment. I've been working with the

Namazi family on their behalf for more than seven years.

Myself and Siamak Namazi has been imprisoned for almost eight years. At the same time, you know, we don't know what's going to happen next. We

obviously hope and pray that it will ultimately lead to a deal to have them leave Iran. But all we know now today, with any assurances, are that they

are out under house arrest, and what happens next is anyone's guess, because there have been many, many prior attempts to secure the release of

the Americans detained in Iran.

Siamak himself has been left behind three times, once by President Obama in the 2016 nuclear deal and two more times by President Trump. And so, being

released to house arrest is undoubtedly a major step forward. But at the same time, we need to remain vigilant, and both the U.S. and Iran

ultimately need to come to an agreement to enable these four Americans to come back home to the United States.

AMANPOUR: And there is a fifth, and we don't know the identity of that person, when they were taken, but that person, we are told, is also under

house arrest. And a fourth, whose name we also don't know, but was held for much less time than Siamak and Emad and Morad.

So, let me ask you, because we did this incredible conversation. Obviously, you knew about it. You are his lawyer. And Siamak was brave enough to call

out one of the world's toughest, most notorious prisons and are talking about desperate measures, how did those seven, nearly eight years go for


GENSER: It's been absolutely brutal. I mean, he spent first two years, you know, being detained in the toughest part of Evin Prison by the Iranian

Revolutionary Guard Corps, subjected to very, very terrible conditions of detention and subjected to a range of other mistreatment. And. you know,

ultimately, you know, both he and his father, who was detained a short time after him, were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in jail for

collaborating with a hostile state, with reference to -- you know, to the United States. Both of them were obviously innocent of the crimes when

which they were tried and convicted.

And you know, I think right now, I do want to focus on the positive moment and my gratitude that the United States and Iran were able to at least come

to this first step. But, of course, there's still a long way to go and we're not there yet. So, you know, I myself, you know, think that while

there's a lot of excitement around what has happened and a lot of speculation about what is going to mean, if there's one thing, I've learned

working on behalf of the Namazi family over the last seven plus years is that it isn't over until it's over, and we are far from the finish line.

AMANPOUR: We really hear that and we know that there are a lot of complicating factors and we don't know exactly how it's all going to end

up. But interestingly, I just wonder what you can tell us about how Iran and the United States came to this moment.


We heard reported, the Iranian foreign minister yesterday or the day before talked to the press about this situation and said, we are always ready to

act based on humanitarian grounds, and that we have been discussing with America through third-parties regularly over the last several months. Is

there anything you can tell us about the contacts, how they might have happened?

GENSER: I mean, you know, obviously, we have been regularly updated by the United States government. There's a lot of information I can't really share

on the air. What I can tell you from my experience is that from the perspective of a family, of American hostages or now, one hostage, Siamak

Namazi, it's just been an infuriating journey because the reality is that in order to get the U.S. and Iran to come to an agreement, first of all,

Iran, you know, and the United States can't talk directly to each other, that's Iran's decision. So, it has to be through an interlocutor.

And beyond that, you, in essence, need to get both governments to come to the table at the same time, and there's just been this horrible dance for

the Namazi family where the U.S. is coming to the table and want to talk, but then the Iranians don't want to talk, and the Iranians want to talk and

then, the Americans don't want to talk. And so, to get them to come to the table at the same time and be prepared to make a move like this has been

incredibly challenging.

Again, it's a great four step, but we're not there. And what I would say is that, you know, we are grateful that we have at least gotten to this day,

which is further than we've gone before and we are hopeful that today will ultimately yield the return of the five Americans to the United States.

AMANPOUR: And have you've been able to talk to them, be in contact with your client, Siamak Namazi? Do you know how they are and what is the

conditions? We've said high house arrest under Iranian guard and still under the Iranian --


AMANPOUR: -- authority. Are they being monitored? What do you know about that?

GENSER: Yes. So, we know that they have been transferred from Evin Prison to a hotel in Tehran where they are under guard. So, they'll -- each of

them, as I understand it, will have their rooms and they have echo monitors on and there will be restrictions, obviously, on their movement. They will

be able to communicate with each other and with their families.

I do have confirmation that they are there. But at this stage, they have not yet been able to communicate with their families and we are waiting a

final confirmation, you know, by obviously talking to them directly. Until that happens, while I have had multiple confirmation that they're there,

you know, I cannot speak to how they are doing until they obviously have had the opportunity to speak with the Swiss ambassador who is representing

the U.S. interest in Iran and ultimately, to their families. I do hope that will happen in short order. And again, we're not quite sure what will

happen from here.

AMANPOUR: Jared Genser, thank you so much, indeed. And we'll obviously keep tracking this story. Thank you very much and congratulations on behalf

of your client and all the hard work that you have done. Thank you.

GENSER: Well, thank you.

AMANPOUR: So, let's go now to the U.S. Security Correspondent Kylie Atwood, she's at the State Department.

Kylie, what do you know, what are the State Department, what is the U.S. saying in terms of confirmation and how this came about?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Christiane, right now the State Department, the National Security Council at the White

House, the White House themselves, they're not confirming that anything has actually happened here.

The backdrop however is that we know that U.S. officials have been working on this effort tirelessly over the course of the last few years and

particularly, over the course of the last few months. I mean, as you know very well, Christiane, it's been publicly known that there were three

Americans who have been wrongfully detained in Iran.

Of course, Siamak Namazi, being the one who's been in prison for the longest amount of time, since 2015. And then, the other two, Emad -- excuse

me, Morad Tahbaz and Emad Shargi, who have been there since 2018. Both arrested in separate instances.

Now, what we are learning, according to Jared who has confirmation that these Americans have actually left Evin Prison, says that there's a fourth

American who have left that Evin Prison with them, and is now under house arrest. We don't know the identity of that person. It's not been someone

who has been kind of in the public eye. So, course, we'll watch to learn more about who that person is, the circumstances surrounding their arrest.

But it strikes me that Jared, in his conversation with you, is being very tentative about getting too excited here. This is clearly a first step

towards the freedom of these Americans who have been detained in Iran. But as he said to you Christiane, what happens next is anyone's guess. It's

very clear that there are a number of things, a sequence of events that need to happen in order to get these Americans out of Iran.


AMANPOUR: Exactly. Well, I wanted to ask you about that because we have reached out to the Iranian government and we have a statement from the

Iranian mission to that United Nations. They are saying, as part of a humanitarian cooperation agreement, mediated by a third-party government,

Iran and that United States have agreed to reciprocally release and pardon five prisoners. The transfer of these prisoners out of prison today marks a

significant initial step in the implementation of this agreement.

So, what I'm reading between the lines there, Kylie, is that these Americans are released under house arrest, there is no reciprocation today.

And according to the Iranian state, it appears that at some point there will be five Iranians also exchanged and a number of other issues,

potentially dealing with money according to separate sources who we've been talking to before.

ATWOOD: Yes, that's hugely significant that the Iranians are now saying what their expectation is in terms of steps that the United States is going

to have to take to actually get these Americans out of Iran, right? We know that the Iranians weren't just going to release these Americans for


So, according to what we are now hearing from the Iranians, they do expect that there are Iranians in U.S. prison who are going to be released.

They're not giving us a date yet for that, but that's something we'll will watch. And as you said, another issue that of course we'll be watching

incredibly closely are the Iranian funds that are in restricted account in South Korea right now.

There have been challenges with the Iranians getting access to those funds because there are restrictions on what they can use them for. There are

challenges with converting South Korean currency into the currency needed to buy humanitarian goods and the like that they're allowed to buy with

those funds. So, that will be another kind of topic that we'll be watching to see if there's any movement on those funds.

We also, Christiane, just got a statement from the National Security Council spokesperson, that is the White House Spokesperson Adrienne Watson,

talking about what has happened here. I'm not sure if your show has the statement to pull up yet, but they are saying that they have received

confirmation that Iran has released from prison five Americans, the number being five, that's significant, who are unjustly detained and has placed

them on house arrest. She calls this an encouraging step, says these U.S. citizens, the three that we have been talking about and two other Americans

who, at this time, they wish to remain private should "never have been detained in the first place."

And they say that they continue to monitor their conditions incredibly closely. And they won't rest until they are back home in the United States.

Until that time, negotiations for their eventual release remain ongoing and are delicate.


ATWOOD: So, therefore, we will have little to say in terms of details to provide. And that's the key here, the situation is still incredibly

delicate, but the fact that there were five Americans who were in prison in Iran and are now on house arrest is a major development today.

AMANPOUR: It is indeed. And excellent that on our program you have managed to get the U.S. confirmation for what we got from Iran itself. Thank you so

much, Kylie Atwood. Thanks a lot.

And let's go now to someone who knows all too well what it is like to be locked up in Iran, that's Jason Rezaian, writer for "The Washington Post."

He spent 18 months in an Iranian prison before being released in a prisoner swap in 2016. And also joining us is Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran

Project at the International Crisis Group. We welcome both of you to the program.

Jason, let me talk to you first because this is such a human moment and I can just imagine that you are empathizing and knowing exactly what they're

feeling right now. So, just what do you think is going through their head as they were called into the prison office and, you know, then told to pick

up their things and finally, they were able to leave, albeit, under Iranian guard still?

JASON REZAIAN, WASHINGTON POST OPINION WRITER: Well, thank you for the question, Christiane. I think, you know, there is a period of time where it

starts to set in that this could all actually be real and that freedom is one massive step closer.

But I will say that, you know, when I talk about my imprisonment of 544 days, it's that last day that was the most grueling. In large part because

there was so many possibilities that could all fall apart. And we know that this is situation is going to take longer to complete, for all the reasons

that Kylie just reported.


So, I think that, you know, the anxiety, the tension will be up, but this is, I think, the first time that these Americans and their families can be

hopeful. I've been on your show with several of the family members, many months ago. We've been talking about this issue since the day I got out of

prison, seven and a half years ago.


REZAIAN: And Siamak Namazi has been there all this time. So, you know, it's a hopeful day, but, you know, we still have to remain vigilant.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to come back to you, Jason, because there's a lot there to unpack because he was there when you were there and he was left

behind when you were freed. And we're going to talk about that in second.

But, Ali Vaez, what is your immediate reaction to this? And I will just say that we've had reaction from Neda Shargi, who is the sister of the U.S.

citizen Emad Shargi who is wrongfully detained there. I'm aware of reports that Emad and the other Americans are being transferred to house arrest, my

family has faith in the work that President Biden and government officials have undertaken to bring our families home and hope to receive that news

soon. Until that point, I hope you can understand that we do not think it would be helpful to comment further.

In other words, they are waiting for the plane to take off with their loved ones out of Iranian airspace and home. Ali, tell us whether this is part of

a bigger deal or what do you think it is?

ALI VAEZ, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP'S IRAN PROJECT: Well, this is a deal that has been long overdue, Christiane. The outlines of this deal

have been negotiated almost for two years, and as Jared said, with all the ups and downs of the Iran U.S. relations and the stalled nuclear

negotiations, has been constantly delayed.

In fact, back in March, we were very close to the finish line, but because of a military confrontation between Iranian-backed allies in Syria and U.S.

forces base there, that resulted in the first American fatality under President Biden, talks were derailed. And there's always plenty of black

swan that could emerge in Iran U.S. relations given the degree of friction between the two sides. And this is why, I think, the families are right to

be cautiously optimistic.


VAEZ: Because the next few weeks are pretty sensitive and there is always the fear of having an argo (ph) moment before the detainees can actually

leave the country.

AMANPOUR: Exactly. And before I go back to Jason, I just want to ask you, Ali, is this part of, for instance, trying to get another nuclear deal or

is it separate? Does it mean that essentially tensions between Iran and the United States kind of de-escalate until after the next election?

VAEZ: Well, we have already seen a degree of de-escalation between the two sides. There had been no attacks on U.S. forces since last March and we've

seen Iran increase its cooperation with the IAEA. There's still a lot of issues between the two sides and there have been reports of this detainee

agreement coming in parallel to an understanding between the two sides, which basically amounts to a restrained -- for restrain for the next year

and a half when the Biden administration is focused on reelection and the war in Ukraine, and the Iranians are trying to stabilize their internal


And so, it appears that there is -- these two things are moving forward in parallel. But again, as I said, it's a very fragile situation.

AMANPOUR: And, Jason, you know, they all say always, and you said too that they were just taken because they're American in order to be traded. And

there are, we know, separately, are -- there are these funds that have frozen in the South Korea. South Korea took Iranian oil, bought it. It was

frozen because of American sanctions, which reached third-parties, and there seems to be an attempt to unravel that. But -- I mean, how -- you

know, I mean, is this last we're going to see of this kind of thing?

REZAIAN: I would doubt it, and that's very unfortunate. But the reality is, there is not a really good deterrents mechanism in place, neither here

in the United States or among our allies, and that's the reason that countries like Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela, and a handful of others are

doing this more and more.

So, I think until that time, we will see Americans and citizens of fellow democracies being picked up and held on spurious charges that are, you

know, completely unfounded and released in these kinds of negotiated settlements.

I'm not going to judge whether that's good or a bad way to get it done, but it is a very binary situation. You're making a choice between the freedom

of your fellow citizens or leaving them behind. And I, personally, as the recipient of many hours of, you know, government work or hours, the public,

my employers, my family, other colleagues and media standing up for me, you know, I have made it a priority of mine to call on governments to do more.


Bring people home, but also figure out how do we deter this in the future, because it's a problem that's existed for centuries and it's not going

away, it is just getting worse.

AMANPOUR: And, Ali Vaez, when you hear that, I mean, that's a whole really difficult issue and there is, as Governor Richardson told us, there is this

thing called hostage diplomacy, and we've got to figure out a way to confront it. Where do you see -- apart from a slight de-escalation between

Iran and the U.S. potentially, where do you see this leading? What needs to happen in the next several weeks to get these prisoners, hostages, not just

out of Evin, but out of Iran?

VAEZ: Well, Christiane, first let me say that hostage taking is a cruel and vile act. There is no doubt about it. But every American president has

engaged in this kind of diplomacy, because every American president's number one responsibility is safety and security of American citizens.

And I know that this deal is likely to produce backlash in Washington, but people who were against this deal are either against American citizens

coming back home or are against Iranian people having access to food and medicine.


VAEZ: 60 percent of Iranians are now malnourished as a result of U.S. sanctions. And all the Biden administration is doing is to conform

implemented U.S. policy to existing U.S. laws.


VAEZ: Because U.S. sanctions make food and medicine exempt.

AMANPOUR: Yes. It's really important to make that point. Ali Vaez, thank you so much. Jason Rezaian, thank you very much for being with us on this


And as we've said, Siamak Namazi took an unprecedented step back in March when he made that bold decision to call this program and publicly pressure

the U.S. administration to free him. There's -- and the others, of course. Here's a bit more of that emotional conversation.


AMANPOUR: Siamak Namazi, it's a rare, rare thing to hear from somebody inside Evin Prison. Can I start by asking you to stay your name and where

you are actually talking to us from?

SIAMAK NAMAZI, PRISONER, EVIN PRISON: Well, my name is Siamak Namazi, and this call is being made from ward four of Evin Prison in Tehran.

AMANPOUR: Siamak, it's a long, long time since we last spoke, when we met in Iran. And I want to say that this is very, very unusual to speak to

somebody inside Evin Prison. Why are you speaking to us in this way? Why are you speaking out now?

NAMAZI: Well, Christiane, first, it's good to hear your voice as well after so many years, directly and not under on a recording that someone's

playing back for me. I think the very fact that I've chosen to take this risk and appear on CNN from Evin Prison, it should just tell you how dire

my situation has become by this point.

I've been a hostage for seven and a half years now. That's six times the duration of the hostage crisis. I keep getting told that I'm going to be

rescued, and deals fall apart where I get left abandoned. Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us

out, to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures.

So, this is a desperate measure. I'm clearly nervous. Just like it's hard for you, it's very intimidating for me to do this. I feel I need to be

heard. I don't know how long I have to wait until the White House understands that we need action and not just to be told that bringing us

out is a priority.

AMANPOUR: Siamak, let me follow up on that because you did write an op-ed that was published in "The New York Times" in the summer.

NAMAZI: Yes. I think what is clear is the following, that the three of us, Emad, Morad, and I, are hostages in Iran. We have not so much as jaywalked.

We've been taken for one reason and one reason only and that's because we are U.S. citizens. And the flipside of that is we will be only released

through a deal with the U.S.

AMANPOUR: I want to know how you are being treated, if you can. How is everyday life for you there? How do you get through the days in Evin?

NAMAZI: Right. Look, there's only so much I'm comfortable saying on CNN about this.



NAMAZI: But I think the short answer is that I've always been made to feel that my very humanity has been taken away for me, not just my freedom.

Today, I'm in the general ward. The situation in the general ward is far better than the corner of hell that I used to be in, in the detention

center. It's far from a pleasant place to be in, but everything becomes relative. It's still extremely difficult to bear the very basic fact that

I'm denied many of the rights of a prisoner because I'm a hostage. I don't know how to convey that. I see hardened criminals, I see members of members

of Daesh, I see people who -- human traffickers have more rights than I do. And, I don't know, you know.

So, yes, our general circumstances in the general ward are OK. And I would say that we do the best that we can to adapt to our circumstances. I

personally take comfort, to use that word again, in the fact that I know that I am doing everything I can to fight this injustice. I want to say

that my situation today is very different than the first 27 months of my arrest when I was still being held at this detention center. There my

situation was really precarious. I did not feel safe at all.

And I want to mention that the Obama administration knew exactly, exactly how unsafe I was. I made sure of that. At that point, it seemed my captors

had made it their mission to strip me of any semblance of human dignity. I spent months caged. I spent months caged in a solitary cell that was a size

of a closet, sleeping on the floor, being fed like a dog from under the door. And honestly, that was a least of my troubles. I, to this day -- I'm

sorry, I didn't realize this was going to happen.

AMANPOUR: Siamak, you are under extreme duress.

NAMAZI: I'm really sorry, it's so hard for me. I suppose the positive side is someday, some therapist is going to make a good bit of money out of it.


AMANPOUR: You are able to make those quips --

NAMAZI: Sorry, please go on.

AMANPOUR: -- and there's some positivity to hearing that you are still robust and that you still have your strength. Your father, of course, he

was arrested.


AMANPOUR: And he, as you say, an elderly retired UNICEF official. When he actually came to try to visit you in prison, he was imprisoned for two

years, following that, prevented from leaving the country for five years until he was finally released this past October. And you then were then

given a furlough, a brief furlough, to see him before he was allowed to leave the country, you were not allowed to leave.

I guess I just want to know how it felt when you were able to see him, that you could see him at least, going to safety and whether you hope and think

you will be reunited.

NAMAZI: If you want to get me bawling, talk about my dad. You know, every father -- I mean, every father could be his son's hero. Mine certainly is

mine. My dad is my hero. I mean, how can he not be? He spent his entire life going to far corners of the world, to the poorest, most dangerous

possible places to save children. How could I not completely be enamored with this man?

And when it comes down to it, I, to this day, carry tremendous guilt that it was my choice to come for a four-day trip to Tehran. And I got arrested,

and as you said, my father got lured back and tricked and arrested because of me. So, there's this tremendous guilt.

This 79 years old human rights medal-winner of the United Nations tossed into -- on the floor in a solitary cell somewhere and interrogate harshly,

and then handed a 10-year prison sentence, which at his age and with his ailments, that was a death sentence, which we got way too close for it to

happen. I mean, he was -- from that detention center, they -- you know, he was ambulanced to the hospital several times. He had several heart

surgeries, including getting a pacemaker made -- put in. So, he was really in bad shape.


Yes, seeing him finally leave, it's a huge, huge burden lifted off my very guilty shoulders. Of course, I know who arrested him and I know that it's

not my fault, that they are cruel people who take, arbitrarily arrest a 79- year-old man and treat him that way. But the fact is he came for me.

But yes, I -- you mentioned that I got furlough. By Iranian law, I'm owed something over 100 days by the strictest interpretation. It's my right

which is being denied. But I'm so grateful that for those 10 days I was allowed to go. And I have to acknowledge -- and it was October -- that Iran

showed some long overdue humanity by lifting the illegal travel ban that they'd put on my father. My father was a free man by Iranian law, with a

travel ban that had absolutely no justification whatsoever. But still, they lifted it.

We didn't know they were doing that. I was given furlough and then they came and told us, and my dad was in disbelief. He thought they're messing

with him. He thought that it's one of these games that they play that we've seen, but it wasn't. It was genuine. They allowed him to leave to get -- to

join the rest of our family and to receive the care that he needed for his life-threatening condition.

For that, I'm deeply and sincerely grateful to those in power in Tehran. And I can only hope that they summon that same spirit of humanity to do

what is needed on their part, so that the rest of us, Morad, Emad, and I, can also be reunited with our families and to start putting this dark past

behind us.

AMANPOUR: Siamak, we will get your message out to the world. And thank you for being so brave as to talk to us.


AMANPOUR: So brave. So desperate back then. And today, at least one step closer to freedom, at least out of jail, despite being under house arrest

for the next several weeks at least.

Now, press freedom is in crisis in India. The world's largest democracy is one of the worst countries for journalism according to the advocacy group,

Reporters Without Borders. Now, a new documentary is now focusing on violence against journalists and politically partisan media. "While We --"

it's called "While We Watched," and it follows veteran Indian news anchor, Ravish Kumar, as he speaks truth to power. And he joins Hari Sreenivasan

alongside the director, Vinay Shukla, to discuss press freedoms in India.


HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Vinay Shukla, Ravish Kumar, the documentary is called "While We Watched," and it takes a look at

the strains and struggles of your life, Ravij, as a journalist at NDTV, one of the last independent channels in India.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Every channel echoes. This is a big story. And nobody is running it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): How dare you. We will murder you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In the absence of information, conversations will turn violent.


SREENIVASAN: And specifically, they you were speaking out against what you perceive to be India's increasing nationalism. So, I want to know what was

the climate and is the climate in India today to be functioning as an independent journalist and what were the strains you were going through?

RAVISH KUMAR, SUBJECT, "WHILE WE WATCHED": The climate war is very vicious. If you want to do journalism, you will find no single platform

which allows you to raise a question as a journalist. And it started very quickly after 2014. When newsrooms were demolished in one go, and it was

like that when command has appeared from the heaven and everybody is rushing to follow it.

The message was very clear that the kind of journalism India -- or Indian news channels were doing before 2014 have to be stopped. So, this media

became -- was pro people before 2014, and turn ND (ph) people after 2014.


So, in this environment, I think NDTV had a very unique position. NDTV took a stand that the channel will never own profit from spreading hate and

would convert (ph) about the may -- and the owners and the (INAUDIBLE) faced a lot of legal cases against them. But still they tried very hard

that we will do -- we will try managed to save this platform when this crisis will pass.

SREENIVASAN: Vinay, why did you want to do this? You know, you've grown up watching Ravish Kumar in his long career. What made you think that this is

the time that a film like this that is just watching, kind of almost a death of a newsroom, would be interesting to watch?

VINAY SHUKLA, DIRECTOR, "WHILE WE WATCHED": I mean, honestly, you know, for a couple of years I had completely switched off from the news. I wasn't

watching anything, not even Ravish, not NDTV, because it would -- watching the news would make me very anxious. And I would talk to my friends across

the world, and a lot of people were switching off from the news, which I found to be very truly disturbing.

You know, news, the system of public information, major system. We will come to the news to hopefully learn something about their lives that will

help them make lead their lives better, make better choices. So, I had switched off from the news. And then, I remembered coming across one of

Ravish's broadcasts where unlike most popular news anchors who spent a lot of time telling their audiences that the audience is number one and we are

here to serve you, Ravish was actually scolding his audiences. And saying, I don't know why you're still watching TV. You need to stop watching TV.

And even if nobody watches my shows, I'm still going to say what I feel like saying.

So, it seems like, you know, here was a news person who is not always questioning the government of the day and various governments but also his

own audiences, and he was being very vulnerable. He was openly wondering if there was a space for his journalism in the world out there.

I used to wonder if the people who are creating the news, who are working in the news business, if they feel the same anxiety that I do as a viewer.

I was really -- this film is a deep dive into the cost of the process of news that is being paid by the people who work within the news business.

SREENIVASAN: Ravish, we watch on multiple occasions in the film going away parties for your staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): It's my last day today.

KUMAR (voiceover): Is there anyone left in your department?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): A few of them are still hanging on.

SREENIVASAN: And I wonder, each time someone left, what was going through your mind? Because on the one hand, you want to support your colleagues and

you wish them well, you want them to be able to earn a livelihood. And on the other hand, that's one less important resource that you have to do what

you think is necessary.

KUMAR: Hari, I became very lonely each year cake cutting ceremony. It was a very disheartening for me to send them off and celebrate their sending of

the cake. I knew that I'm losing my best of colleagues, a kind of warriors who can deliver anything in this crisis situation with lesser resources.

They were such telling tech (ph) people. It made me more lonely. And yes, many times it didn't give -- I used to think that the number is coming to

me and my number will come one day and then, I will also go from this floor. And it happened. But it was very tough to do work without them.

Nobody could replace them, yes. But we keep doing with few numbers of colleagues. They were very dedicated after that also. But it was always

tough and emotionally very draining. It drains you out that you are losing your best colleague.

SREENIVASAN: Why do you think your broadcasts and you specifically were branded anti-nationalist? Because that's a phrase that the ruling political

party as well as other journalists in this spectrum of Indian media used fairly often as a critique?


KUMAR: Hari, the main reason is that, first, the Uraki (ph) said that they branded not only me but many people or activists, journalists as an anti-

India. They knew that this man has some kind of credibility and he is doing the right kind of thing, raising their issues, and it could derail their

communal propaganda or political propaganda.

So, I became a definite target for them. I used to -- they think that -- they must be thinking that, let's get rid -- get him out from this channel.

So, it was a very not easy for them to digest my -- the kind of U.S. support I had. At that time also, so many thing happen, which is very still

unknown to me. Many states -- and my show, my channel disappeared from many cable networks in many states and I started getting calls that, your sound

is coming but your visual video is not coming. Your video is coming but your sound is not coming. This kind of disturbances I used to have.

So, I had fairly idea that they are worried about my numbers, my viewers and the kind of program I do. They were very clear that we do not want this

kind of journalism in India anymore, which reflects people problems on television screen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): People here say that if you can't even give us water then go ahead and kill us.

KUMAR (voiceover): No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): Let us die.

KUMAR (voiceover): No, you'll fight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): We are fighting but no one cares.

KUMAR (voiceover): Do you watch news?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): Yes, sir. We do.

KUMAR (voiceover): Do you see them address your issue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): No. We want the truth. We want water. We are tired of running all over the place.

SREENIVASAN: Vinay, I want to ask, you document something that journalists talk about, which is the level of vitriol and hate and death threats that

Ravish was constantly receiving. Were you, at any point while making this film, concerned for your safety, his safety?

SHUKLA: OK. So, the thing is, for example, Ravish -- the trick, there was a very clear trick perception to him. He was to move around with an armed

guard, right? So, that's as real as it gets. And, you know, there are these moments with documentary films wherein you find yourself confronted with

the sheer force at which ethical challenges in life is coming at you.

You know, and those moments you feel like I should document this and then, I'll come back with this later on and figure out how exactly I feel about

this. But shooting this film for me, Hari, was also -- you know, it put me face to face with what journalists across the world are going through every

day. And I hope that people are able to watch this film and understand that this is what -- that we are, in a sense, abandoned journalists, in many

cases and in many countries.

Because sooner than later, when we believe in one journalist, one organization, one government, sooner than later, one always makes a

mistake. You know, that's how -- that's the nature of the world. But it's almost urgent that we will institutions that are much -- that cater to many

more people than just one.

My constant ambition and constant -- and, you know, hope from this film is that we have to understand and build better institutional practices for

journalists across the world, especially in India.

SREENIVASAN: Ravish, what was the toll on your family?

KUMAR: Our family life was affected very much. We were not aware about these things are affecting our mental health, each one. So, we thought that

our -- we are getting less sleep. So, we are not well kept. That is why these panic attacks are happening. But later, we realized that mental

health is completely devastated, wanting.

We stopped going out as a family for dinner, for holiday, because I was staying in a hotel. And four or five people barge into my room, and they

open -- we were in the room and they started calling me with names and started debating with me. So, we had to leave that hotel next morning.


So, these things started. Thinking in our -- in thinking process that time is over for us to go together, time is over for us to travel by train. So -

- and the children were very -- not very young. There were still growing and they were approaching -- one was approaching her teen.


KUMAR: So, it affected her very badly. I had no family life. Now, I'm trying to -- beginning to rebuild the concept of family life, which you are

talking about.

SREENIVASAN: Vinay, what are the chances that this film is able to be screened in a theater in India?

SHUKLA: I don't have a ready distributor in India yet, but I face difficulties on my last film as well, which -- and then, I was able to

release it in theaters, trying in theaters for many weeks. And I remain an optimist. I believe I'm going through a conversation that everybody wants

to have and I hope to bring it to Indian audiences very soon. Because ultimately, while I'm very grateful for everything that's happening with

the film internationally, I made this film for my friends, for my cousins, for my family in India who I have a very, very heated political

conversations with about the news.


SHUKLA: And then, I go like, all right. I can't win you with my words, so I'm going to make a film and try to win this argument. So, just to be able

to win that argument, (INAUDIBLE) I know that I lost last, year I need to get this film out in India.

SREENIVASAN: Ravish, when you see that the prime minister of India is received with open arms by the Biden ministration or that there's parades

for him in France, and you look out in India and you see that there are hundreds of millions of people who see the world as Prime Minister Modi

does, why do you go forward or how do you think about the work that you are continuing to do and the impact you want to have?

KUMAR: Hari, yes, I can see Modi meeting Biden and Biden hugging Modi and Netanyahu hugging Macron and Macron hugging Netanyahu. Yes. These things, I

do not expect Biden to come to India and solve the crisis of journalism.

Yes, I can criticize those meetings, those diplomatic engagements on different counts that what he is going to offer, what India is going to get

on that count, but I do not expect anything from Biden government and administration.

This fight, yes, though the crisis of journalism resembles many parts of the world but the solution has to be very local. And I have to -- I believe

that if I keep doing this, if many people are -- keep doing this, and thankfully, there are more devices now and they are taking their risk and

doing very vocal about the government. They very vocal critic of this government. They are doing it.

SREENIVASAN: But what is your kind of mission going forward? Now, you chose to resign from NDTV after a billionaire took over the channel, the

billionaire, you said, have close connections with Prime Minister Modi. Why did you choose to resign and what is your mission now?

KUMAR: It is a very clear who the new owner is going to be. So, the billionaire has multiple numbers of -- millions of money. He can buy even

any a channel on this earth, but he cannot give you a journalism, a space for journalism, a space to raise a question. He cannot allow to questions

Narendra Modi.

He may have a number of channels on -- in his pocket, but he cannot create a journalism to question government of the day that I know. That was -- it

was very obvious for me that this is not a place where I should be. So, I left it. And my decision is getting approved, right, every day.


This is a state of journalism in India. We have to talk about it. If we did not talk about this crisis, what this film is doing to, we are not going to

make them aware. And I am sure that the script of this media is going to replicate and play out in other parts of the world very soon. Journalist

have become criminals in India. We have to be very careful. If we are hopeful, we want to save our democracy, we need to talk about this

dangerous place called media.

SREENIVASAN: Director Vinay Shukla and Journalist Ravish Kumar, the film is called "While We Watched," thank you both for joining us.

KUMAR: Thank you, Hari.

SHUKLA: Thank you. Thank you for having us.


AMANPOUR: Well worth watching. That's it for now. Goodbye from London.