5 Americans walk free from Iran’s prisons in the wake of sanctions lift
A group of Iranian men walked free from detention in the U.S. early Sunday after being pardoned and released as part of a prisoner swap deal between Tehran and Washington, a lawyer for one of the men told CNN. Bahram Mechanich and Tooraj Faridi, both of Houston, and Khosro Afghahi, of Los Angeles, were released along with four other Iranians held in other parts of the U.S., Mechanich’s attorney Joel Androphy said.
Iran has announced the release of five detained Americans after international inspectors said Tehran is in compliance with a deal to restrict its nuclear program.
U.S. administration officials confirmed the news Saturday following reports first published in Iranian media.
They include four who are part of a prisoner swap deal: Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini. A fourth detainee identified by U.S. officials as Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari was also part of the deal.
A fifth man — recently detained student Matthew Trevithick — was released separately, U.S. officials said.
The announcement came the same day the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog announced Iran is in compliance with a July nuclear deal.
As a result, some international economic sanctions against Iran were lifted.
They were released in exchange for clemency for seven Iranians indicted or imprisoned in the United States for sanctions violations, the officials confirmed.
Six of the seven are dual citizens.
The deal comes after more than a year of secret negotiations, the officials said. The nuclear agreement “accelerated” the prisoner swap, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.
The United States also agreed to drop charges against 14 other Iranians whose extradition to the United States seemed unlikely, a U.S. official said.
The five Americans had been detained in separate cases, some as early as 2011.
Congressmen to meet freed prisoners
Two congressmen are headed to Germany on Sunday to greet Rezaian and Hekmati.
“I am thrilled and relieved that Jason and these other Americans are no longer in prison,” said Jared Huffman, who represents Rezaian and has been involved in his case.
Huffman said the freed prisoners are expected to be transported to a U.S. military hospital in Germany for medical evaluation. They won’t be on U.S. soil for a few days, he said.
Robert Levinson’s fate unknown
The agreement also calls for Iranian officials to “continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson,” a U.S. official said. Levinson, a former FBI agent and CIA contractor, went missing in Iran in 2007.
Iran has denied holding him.
“We are happy for the other families,” Levinson’s family said in a statement. “But once again, Bob Levinson has been left behind. We are devastated.”
Trevithick’s release was not part of the prisoner swap, but U.S. officials did “indicate to Foreign Minister [Javad] Zarif that it’d be important for them to try to resolve some of the other cases of Americans detained in the context of this “deal,” a senior administration official told CNN.
Trevithick has left Iran, administration officials said.
U.S. offers clemency
In return, the U.S. is pardoning or commuting the sentence of an Iranian and six dual citizens.
The men had been involved in exporting products and services to Iran in violation of trade sanctions against the country. It ranged from exporting electronic components, satellite services, marine navigation and military equipment to Iran.
U.S. federal officials said they will not comment on the names of anyone who is part of the agreement until after the four Americans are in U.S. custody.
However, the attorney for Bahram Mechanich, one of the seven, told CNN his client was pardoned along with two others — Tooraj Faridi and Khosro Afghahi — but their release awaits the Americans’ departure from Iran.
A source familiar with the case of a fourth man identified him as Ali Saboonchi.
The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) named the other three men as Nader Madanloo, Arash Ghahreman and Nima Golestaneh.