Hopes rise over US reporter as Iran frees four prisoners

Published: Saturday 16th January 2016 by The News Editor

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Iran has freed four dual-nationality prisoners, with one believed to be Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Iranian state television has announced.

The prisoners were not identified, although a member of the Iranian judiciary confirmed that one was Mr Rezaian, a dual Iran-US citizen who was convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial last year.

Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti could not initially confirm if her colleague had been released.

A report by the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted a statement from the Tehran prosecutor’s office as saying the inmates were freed “within the framework of exchanging prisoners”.

US officials would not immediately confirm the announcement, but they had indicated a prisoner deal would be separate from the expected “implementation” of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is in Vienna to meet US secretary of state John Kerry, spoke in cryptic terms of a possible negotiation.

The family of one of the US prisoners is believed to have received unofficial word from Iran that their relative is being released.

Iran is seeking a number of detained Iranians in exchange for the Americans.

The four Americans known to be held in Iran are:

:: Jason Rezaian, who was born in California and holds both US and Iranian citizenship. He was convicted in closed proceedings last year after being charged with espionage and related allegations. T he length of his sentence has not been disclosed publicly. The Post and the US government have denied the accusations, as has Mr Rezaian. He was originally detained with his wife in July 2014. She was released on bail in October 2014. Rezaian was the Post’s Tehran correspondent and was accredited to work in the country by the Iranian government.

:: Former US Marine Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan. He was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. His family says he has lost significant weight and has trouble breathing, raising fears he could contract tuberculosis. Mr Hekmati went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother. After his arrest, his family said they were told to keep matter quiet. He was sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years.

:: Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho. He was detained for compromising national security, presumably as a result of Christian proselytizing, in September 2012. He was sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison. Barack Obama met his wife and children in 2015. There are claims he was beaten in Iranian prison. Pastor Abedini was previously arrested in 2009 and released after promising to stop organising churches in homes. At the time of his arrest, he was running an orphanage in Iran.

:: Siamak Namazi, a businessman and the son of a politician from the shah’s era.

Separately, Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission. American officials are unsure if the former FBI agent is still alive, and Iranian officials deny knowing where he is. A proof of life video surfaced in 2011, saying he was held by a group. His family received photos that year, too, of Mr Levinson bearded, shackled, wearing an orange jumpsuit and holding signs in broken English. He has seven children, and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Published: Saturday 16th January 2016 by The News Editor

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