Iran frees Washington Post reporter and three others in prisoner swap
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Iran ordered the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and three others on Saturday, according to FRANCE 24's Tehran correspondent, in exchange for the US granting pardons to seven Iranians and dropping charges against 14 others.
Announcing the release on Saturday, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi said the release of the four US-Iranian dual nationals was “in line with orders from the Supreme National Security Council and in the national interest”.
The announcement came as Iran and world powers led by the US were expected to finally implement last July's nuclear deal, which will lift international sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
Tehran ordered the release of California-born Rezaian, who was jailed last year on espionage charges, along with three other dual Iranian-American citizens. The Washington Post announced Sunday afternoon that Rezaian was on his way out of Iran.
Those released include pastor Saeed Abedini, in jail for three years after being convicted of undermining national security; former US Marine Amir Hekmati, who is serving 10 years for cooperating with hostile governments; and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, about whom little is known.
Earlier reports suggested Siamak Namazi, a businessman arrested last year in Tehran, was one of the released detainees. But Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said Saturday that Namazi remains in prison because "his charges are financial, and not political".
A fifth American, student Matthew Trevithick, was released separately by Iran. In a statement released Saturday, Trevithick’s family confirmed his release after 40 days of detention in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, where Rezaian was also held. Trevithick was in Iran to study Dari, one of the national languages in neighbouring Afghanistan, his family said.
In exchange for the four prisoners released in Iran, the US granted clemency to seven Iranians and dropped charges against 14 more, according to US officials.
"We offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual US-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or are pending trial in the United States. The United States also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful," said a US official.
The official Iranian news agency, IRNA, named the seven Iranians as Nader Modanlo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Sabouni.
Hours after Iran announced the prisoner swap deal, the Washington Post welcomed the release of the newspaper's Tehran bureau chief’s release.
"We couldn't be happier to hear the news that Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison. Once we receive more details and can confirm Jason has safely left Iran, we will have more to share," said Washington Post publisher Frederick Ryan.
Rezaian was detained on July 22, 2014 along with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the United Arab Emirates-based newspaper The National. Salehi was later released, but Rezaian remained in custody.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 in December, Rezaian’s mother, Mary Rezaian, said her son’s health had deteriorated while in prison.
The latest prisoner swap is yet another sign of a tentative thawing in relations between Washington and Tehran following the nuclear agreement reached in July.
On Wednesday, Tehran released 10 US sailors just a day after they had been detained when their two small boats entered Iranian waters.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)