The Iranians and Americans behind each other's bars


Tehran (AFP)

Sworn enemies Iran and the United States still hold a number of each other's nationals behind bars, despite the apparent release of an Iranian academic from a US prison overnight.

In an Instagram post on Tuesday, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a plane carrying scientist Sirous Asgari had left America.

In spite of soaring tensions, Tehran and Washington have carried out prisoner swaps on at least two occasions in recent years.

Among those released were Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, exchanged in 2016 for seven Iranians held in the US, and Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist swapped for US academic Xiyue Wang in December.

But it remains unclear if the fate of Asgari is linked to any Americans held in the Islamic republic.

With the recent call by Iran for a full prisoner exchange, here is a recap of prisoners currently known to be held by both sides:

- Americans in Iran's prisons -

- US Navy veteran Michael R. White was arrested in July 2018 and sentenced the following year to 10 years in prison after being convicted of insulting Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and posting on social media under a pseudonym.

- Iranian-American Siamak Namazi was convicted in October 2016 of spying for the United States and sentenced to 10 years, along with his father Baquer.

- Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American, was arrested alongside seven other members of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation in January 2018 and sentenced to 10 years for "conspiring with America".

- In October 2016, Iranian-American Gholam Reza Shahini told the Los Angeles Times from prison in Iran that he had been sentenced to 18 years for "collaboration with a foreign government" after his arrest in July.

- Karan Vafadari, a Zoroastrian and Iranian-American, was arrested in June 2016 over spying and released on bail in July 2018. He was still in Iran as of June 2019.

- Iranians held in the US -

- Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari. He was acquitted in November and had remained in US custody, apparently over immigration issues, until overnight, when Iran's foreign minister said he was on board a plane that had left America.

- Sajjad Shahidian, a 33-year-old Iranian, was extradited from Britain and faced a US court on May 19, charged with violating sanctions through his financial services company PAYMENT24, according to the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

- Ahmadreza Mohammadi-Doostdar, 39, and Majid Ghorbani, 60, both Iranian-Americans, were sentenced to 38 and 30 months respectively in January, for collecting information on US citizens who are members of the People's Mujahedeen, a former rebel group Iran considers a "terrorist cult".

- Mehrdad Ansari, a 38-year-old Iranian, was extradited from Georgia in March and charged with planning to obtain military parts for Iran, according to the DoJ.

- Amin Hasanzadeh, a dual national defence contractor, appeared in court in November accused of stealing technical data from his employer and sending it to his brother in Iran with apparent ties to the military, according to public radio NPR.

- Behrooz Behroozian, a 64-year-old dual national, was sentenced to 20 months in October for exporting gas and oil pipeline parts to Iran in violation of sanctions.

- Mehdi Hashemi, an Iranian-American, was arrested in August 2019 and charged with planning to ship prohibited items from the US to Iran, said the DOJ.

- Bahram Karimi, a 53-year-old Iranian-Canadian, and Ali Sadr Hashemi Nejad, 40, were arrested and charged in March 2018 and January 2020 respectively with involvement in a joint Iran-Venezuela project and funnelling $115 million through the US financial system, according to the DOJ. Iran and Venezuela are both under US sanctions.

- Mahin Mojtahedzadeh, a 74-year-old Iranian, was sentenced to 443 days in January after being charged with violating sanctions by attempting to export gas turbine parts. She was arrested in November 2018.

- Sadr Emad-Vaez, Pouran Aazad and Hassan Ali Moshir-Fatemi, all Iranian-Americans, were arrested in April 2018 and are currently on trial for allegedly evading Iran sanctions.

- Behzad Pourghanad, a 66-year-old Iranian, was sentenced to 46 months in November for exporting carbon fibre from the US to Iran. He was arrested in Germany in May 2017 and extradited to the US in July 2019.

- Alireza Jalali, 42, was sentenced to 15 months in March 2018 for exporting military technology to Iran. He is still in jail with an "unknown" release date, according to US Federal Bureau of Prisons.

- Milad Kalantari was sentenced to 10 years in March 2017 over charges of identity theft and access device fraud. He was arrested in 2015 and is expected to be released in June 2024, according to the BOP.

- Reza Olangian, a dual national, was sentenced to 25 years in March 2018 after being charged in 2016 with attempting to send surface-to-air missiles and military aircraft parts to Iran.

- Manssor Arbabsiar was sentenced to 25 years in 2013, charged with participating in a plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the US.