Five Iranian Americans who were detained in Iran have been allowed to leave the country as part of a prisoner swap agreement, according to Iranian and White House officials. The release of the detainees was negotiated in exchange for the dismissal of federal charges against five imprisoned Iranians and the unfreezing of $6 billion in Iranian assets. The Americans departed from Tehran in a plane just before 9 a.m. Eastern time and are expected to fly to Doha, the capital of Qatar, before continuing on to Washington on a U.S. government plane after receiving medical checkups.
The release of the detainees comes after more than two years of quiet negotiations between the United States and Iran. The U.S. government had deemed the five Iranian Americans wrongfully detained. Several of the prisoners, who hold dual citizenship, had been transferred from Evin prison to a hotel last month, according to officials at the State Department and the National Security Council.
One of the detainees, Siamak Namazi, 51, is an Iranian American businessman who had been imprisoned in Iran for the longest amount of time. He flew to Iran from his home in Dubai in the summer of 2015 to visit his parents and attend a funeral but was charged with "collaborating with a hostile government," referring to the United States. His father, Baquer Namazi, a senior retired U.N. official, was also arrested when he visited Iran to check on his son but was allowed to leave last October due to health reasons. Siamak Namazi had begun a hunger strike in January to appeal directly to President Biden for his release.
Another detainee, Emad Sharghi, 59, is a dual Iranian American citizen and businessman who moved to Iran in 2017 with his wife to reconnect with the language and culture of their childhood. Sharghi had been working for an Iranian venture capital fund and exploring business opportunities with Iranian start-ups. He was initially detained in 2018 but released after eight months. However, he was not allowed to leave Iran, and when he attempted to flee the country illegally in 2020, he was captured and sentenced to 10 years in prison for collaborating with an enemy state.
Morad Tahbaz, 67, an Iranian American businessman who also holds British citizenship, is a wildlife conservationist and co-founder of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation. He was arrested in 2018, along with eight other employees of the organization, on charges of "contacts with the U.S. government" and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Tahbaz has suffered from prostate cancer and contracted Covid-19 three times during his imprisonment.
The remaining two detainees have not been named at the request of their families. One is a scientist and businessman from California who was detained a year ago, and the other is a woman who worked for humanitarian aid groups in Afghanistan and was arrested in 2023. Her detention delayed the U.S.-Iran prisoner deal as the United States insisted that all American citizens be included in the swap.
In exchange for the release of the five Iranian Americans, the U.S. authorities will drop charges against five Iranian nationals, although not all of them were held in American jails. One of the Iranians will join his family in a third country, and two will remain in the United States, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.
The released detainees include Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, 65, a political scientist and author who was arrested in 2021 on charges of acting as an unregistered agent of the Iranian government. Mehrdad Ansari, 42, was convicted in 2021 and sentenced to 63 months in prison for being involved in a plan to obtain military sensitive parts for Iran in violation of the Iranian trade embargo. Kambiz Attar Kashani, an Iranian American dual citizen, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in February 2023 for conspiring to illegally export U.S. goods and technology to the Central Bank of Iran, which supports organizations designated as terrorist groups by the United States. Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, 48, an Iranian and Canadian national, was charged with exporting lab equipment to Iran in 2021. Amin Hasanzadeh, 46, an Iranian national, was charged in 2019 with stealing confidential documents and technical data from his employer.
The families of the detainees expressed their joy and relief at their release and stated that they would focus on their health and the path to recovery after these lost years. The prisoner swap marks a significant development in the ongoing diplomatic efforts between the United States and Iran.
themes: Military California Washington