Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has been released from an Iranian prison along with three other U.S. citizens in a prisoner swap with Iran, a U.S. official has confirmed to The Daily Beast. The release was part of a prisoner swap which included seven Iranians held on sanctions charges. A year of secret negotiations led to Saturday's deal. All four finally left Tehran after a delay due to logistical issues. The released prisoners will be flown to Switzerland, then to Germany for medical attention.
The 39-year-old Rezaian—The Post’s Tehran bureau chief who was arrested in July 2014, charged on a bogus accusation of espionage, subjected to a secret trial and handed a vague years-long sentence—was freed with former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abebdni and a fourth prisoner, Nosratollah Khosrawi. Like the California-born Rezaian, the son of an American mother and an Iranian-immigrant father, they all hold dual American-Iranian citizenship, The Post reported. A fifth U.S. citizen, the student Matthew Trevithick, has been released and was allowed to leave Tehran.
A U.S. official told The Daily Beast that the Americans will be flown aboard a Swiss aircraft from Iran to Geneva, accompanied by Giulio Haas, Switzerland's ambassador to Iran. It was not yet clear when the Americans would return to the United States. Jason's Iranian-born wife Yeganeh, a fellow journalist who was also arrested and imprisoned for three months, was expected to accompany him out of the country, according to CNN.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a U.S. official said, “Through a diplomatic channel that was established with the focus of getting our detained U.S. citizens home, we can confirm Iran has released from imprisonment four Americans detained in Iran ... Iran has also committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Robert Levinson. We offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-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.”
Fars reported that the four freed Americans—who did not include Siamak Namazi, despite stories naming him in Persian and Western media—were released in a deal calling for the United States to release seven unnamed Iranian-Americans being held on alleged sanctions violations, and demand that the international law enforcement agency Interpol cease prosecution of 14 other other unidentified Iranian nationals. Their release was pursued in parallel with the nuclear deal. It began roughly 14 months ago, "in periods of fits and starts," one of the officials said.
A source with knowledge of the exchange, who asked not to be identified because the process is still being carried out, told The Daily Beast that most, if not all, of the people in U.S. custody will be returning to Iran. Not all of them have yet been released from prison but are likely to be freed by Monday or Tuesday, this person said. An attorney for one Iranian-American accused of violating sanctions, Bahram Mechanic, told The Daily Beast that he had been pardoned by President Obama. Separately, Reuters reported that two others, Tooraj Faridi, and Khosrow Afghahi, also had been pardoned and that the U.S. would drop charges or commute the sentences in five other men's cases. The prisoner exchange is a "one time only kind of arrangement," a senior administration official explained reporters.
On behalf of the family, Jason’s brother, Ali Rezaian, said in a statement: “I am incredibly relieved that Jason is on his way home. He is a talented journalist, who was simply doing his job fairly, accurately and lawfully. Jason is a loving brother, son and devoted husband, whose life was unfairly interrupted when he was arrested for crimes he did not commit. After nearly a year and a half of arbitrary delays, and an unfair, opaque judicial process, Jason’s release has brought indescribable relief and joy to our family – this nightmare is approaching an end. We are also overjoyed to hear that other Americans being held in Iran also will soon be reunited with their families. Today is an incredible day for all of us.”
"Friends and colleagues at The Washington Post are elated by the wonderful news that Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison and has safely left the country with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi. We are relieved that this 545-day nightmare for Jason and his family is finally over," Frederick J. Ryan, Jr., publisher of The Washington Post, said in a statement.
The family of former Marine Hekmati, during a visit to Washington last week to focus attention on his case, told The Daily Beast that they’d been concerned about his name fading from headlines and that Hekmati could linger in prison.
"Our country has a service they owe Amir,", his brother-in-law Ramy Kurdi said. The family had recently been allowed phone calls with Hekmati, and he was believed to be getting medical treatment for a health condition. But there was no indication that his release was imminent.
Hekmati's family were in Washington as the guest of Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, who last year had kept his seat vacant during the State of the Union address to symbolize Hekmati's continued absence from his family.
"It's important to say his name," Kildee told The Daily Beast,
Hekmati's sister, Sarah, was optimistic and said the family would "redouble our efforts" in the coming months.
If today's reports are accurate, their hard work paid off sooner than expected.
The reported release—just days after Iran released 10 U.S. sailors who were detailed for nearly a day after their vessels inadvertently wandered into Iranian waters—comes as implementation of the multi-lateral nuclear deal, for which Secretary of State John Kerry spent long hours in Europe negotiating with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, could be announced as early as Sunday.
It was by no means clear if the timing of reported prisoner swap and Implementation Day were related. The controversial agreement, proudly touted by President Obama in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, calls for Iran to cease developing a nuclear weapon for more than a decade and for international sanctions to be lifted on that country.
Last week, Iran removed the core of its Arak nuclear reactor, eliminating its ability to produce bomb-grade plutonium. United Nations inspectors arrived Thursday to verify that Iran has accomplished the removal.
Nancy Youssef contributed to this report from Washington.