HomeWorldFive Americans freed in prisoner exchange with Iran

Five Americans freed in prisoner exchange with Iran

DOHA, Qatar — Five Americans wrongfully imprisoned in Iran for years they were released on Monday as part of a prisoner exchange agreement That gives Tehran access to $6 billion in oil revenues frozen under U.S. sanctions, according to a senior diplomat in the region with knowledge of the exchange.

A plane carrying the five Americans and two of their relatives took off from Iran and is headed to Qatar, which had helped negotiate the exchange. Five Iranian citizens held in US custody were also expected to be released as part of the deal. After landing in Doha, the freed Americans were expected to board a U.S. government plane and fly home to the United States. NBC News first reported about the prisoner exchange negotiations in February.

Days before the Americans were freed, Republican lawmakers in Washington damned the deal, saying it amounted to a “ransom” payment and will only encourage Iran to imprison more foreigners. A similar 2015 deal during the Obama administration, in which Iran was given access to blocked funds while releasing Americans held in Iran, also came under heavy criticism from Republicans as a capitulation to Tehran.

But families of the freed Americans say their loved ones were hostages taken captive on trumped-up charges and used as bargaining chips by the Iranian government. Families and some former hostages say the Biden administration had to use the influence it had available to secure the freedom of imprisoned American citizens, or face the prospect of Americans remaining imprisoned indefinitely. Past presidents, including Donald Trump, engaged in prisoner exchanges, also.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that of the five Iranians released as part of the exchange, two planned to return to Iran, one was headed to a third country and two others intended to remain in the United States, where they have legal residence. . .

Siamak Namazi with his father, Baquer Namazi.Courtesy of Babak Namazi

One of the Americans, Siamak Namazi, 51, had been imprisoned in Iran for nearly eight years, longer than any of the other current American detainees. A graduate of New York’s White Plains High School and a business consultant with degrees from Tufts and Rutgers universities, he was arrested in 2015 and convicted of espionage in a trial that lasted only a few hours. His father, Baquer Namazi, was detained in 2016 when he traveled to Iran to visit his son. The eldest Namazi was released last year.

Emad Shargi, 59, an Iranian businessman from Washington, D.C. who moved to the United States as a young man, was arrested in April 2018. He was released on bail and acquitted of all charges in December 2019, but the Iranian authorities refused to return his passport. He was charged again in 2020 and found guilty of espionage without trial.

Emad Shargi, a Washington, D.C., businessman, was one of five Americans freed Monday.United by Iran

Morad Tahbaz, 67, an Iranian-American who also has British citizenship, was arrested in January 2018 and convicted of espionage in 2019.

Tahbaz was part of a group of environmental activists conducting research on the endangered cheetah population in Iran.

U.S. officials say the families of the other two freed Americans requested that their names be kept private.

Roxanne Tahbaz holds a photograph of her father, Morad Tahbaz, during a protest in London.Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images Archive

Human rights groups say Iran has been involved in hostage-taking for decades, using foreign prisoners as a tool to exert influence over other governments. Human rights groups also say espionage charges against American prisoners were baseless.

Iran denies the accusation and says all prisoners are treated in accordance with the country’s laws.

Darian Dalili speaks with a woman outside the White House as he calls for the release of his father, Shahab Dalili, on August 14.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images file

The prisoner swap did not include two legal permanent residents of the United States with green cards who remained behind bars in Tehran. One of them, Shahab Dalili, was arrested and jailed in 2016 while visiting Tehran for his father’s funeral, according to his family. His wife and children are American citizens living in Virginia. Recently, his son staged a sit-in for days in front of the State Department, demanding that his father be included in the swap.

Jamshid Sharmahd, a software developer living in California, was kidnapped in 2020 during a stopover in the United Arab Emirates and taken to Iran, according to his family. He is a German citizen and now faces the death penalty on charges of so-called “corruption on earth.” But his family says he simply advocated for democracy in Iran.

As a first step in the prisoner exchange, the five Americans were placed under house arrest on August 10 and their release was conditional on the transfer of South Korea’s $6 billion in frozen oil revenues to Qatar’s central bank. Iran’s use of the released funds will be monitored by Qatar and restricted to the purchase of food, medicine or other items for humanitarian purposes, as permitted by US sanctions.

The Treasury Department will monitor transactions in the account managed by Qatar. US officials have warned that Washington is willing to freeze the funds again if Iran violates US sanctions.

However, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said NBC News’ Lester Holt in an exclusive interview that Tehran will decide how to spend the $6 billion. When asked if the money would be used for purposes other than humanitarian needs, he said: “Humanitarian means whatever the Iranian people need, so this money will be budgeted for those needs, and the needs of the Iranian people will be decided.” and determined by the Iranian government.” He added that the money will be spent “where we need it.”

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