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Iran releases US-Iranian detainee as protests roil country

President Joe Biden speaks to Department of Defense personnel at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Iran has released from detention an Iranian-American businessman who was jailed seven years ago during a visit to Tehran, and his elderly father, the United Nations said in a statement on Saturday.

The announcement comes as indirect talks between Iran and the U.S. over how to revive the 2015 nuclear deal remain stalled and as Tehran’s leadership faces mounting pressure at home while anti-government protests continue to grip the country amid a violent crackdown by security forces.

Siamak Namazi, who became the longest-held U.S.-Iranian detained in Iran, was arrested in October 2015 and later handed a 10-year prison sentence for “colluding with foreign countries.” The U.N. statement didn’t say whether Namazi is able to leave the country or give any details about the conditions of his release.

Citing his lawyer in the U.S., Reuters reported that Namazi is still barred from leaving Iran and is only on a one-week furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison.

Namazi’s 85-year-old father, Baqer Namazi, who was arrested in February 2016 after authorities lured him to Iran on the false promise that he’d meet his son, will be allowed to leave the country in order to receive urgent medical care, the U.N. statement said.

In a tweet on Saturday, Iran’s state-run Nour News said “intense negotiations” mediated by a Middle Eastern country had led to the “simultaneous release” of Iranian and U.S. prisoners and that billions of dollars of Iranian funds that are frozen overseas because of sanctions would soon be released as part of the talks.

The U.S. has yet to officially comment on the release of the Namazis or the Nour News statement. Earlier on Saturday President Joe Biden said Venezuela had freed seven Americans in a swap involving two members of Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro’s family.

In 2017, a U.N. working group ruled that neither Siamak or Baqer Namazi had received a fair trial and demanded their immediate release.

Iranian and U.S. officials have said recently that they’d discussed prisoner exchanges through interlocutors but have always denied they are directly linked to talks over the landmark nuclear deal.

Restoring that accord would release sanctions on Iran’s struggling economy in exchange for limits on its atomic activity. Economic malaise and a confluence of other grievances related to civil liberties have converged during the current protests, which have entered their third week.

The unrest erupted on Sept. 16 after a 22-year-old woman died in the custody of Tehran’s morality police, who’d arrested her for allegedly violating Islamic dress codes.


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