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Iran Frees Navy Veteran Held for Two Years

Iran has freed Michael R. White, a Navy veteran held in that country for nearly two years, and he was on his way home, his mother announced on Thursday in the United States.

“For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare,” his mother, Joanne White, said in a statement, referring to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

“I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home.”

The release of Mr. White, 48, a cancer patient who had been infected with the coronavirus while incarcerated in Iran, came a day after an Iranian scientist held in the United States was returned to Iran.

American officials had insisted the two cases were not linked. But Iranian officials had suggested last month that once the scientist, Sirous Asgari, was back in Iran, they would look favorably at permitting Mr. White to go home.

The State Department did not immediately respond to queries about Mr. White’s release.

Mr. White, of Imperial City, Calif., was arrested in July 2018 while visiting an Iranian woman, whom his family said he had met on the internet, in the northeast city of Mashhad. He was later convicted of privacy violations and of insulting Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Iranian prosecutors also suggested he was a spy.

His mother did not know he had been imprisoned until months afterward. She repeatedly called on the Iranian authorities to free him, insisting he had done nothing wrong and that his health was in danger. Mr. White had been treated for throat cancer before he want to Iran.

He was furloughed from prison a few months ago when the coronavirus became a crisis in Iran. Swiss diplomats, who act on behalf of the United States in Iran, have been looking after his case.

The prisoner issue is especially contentious between the United States and Iran, which broke diplomatic relations 40 years ago after the Islamic revolution. Each country has repeatedly accused the other of holding their citizens for political reasons.

At least three other Americans, all with dual U.S. and Iranian citizenship, are known to be in custody in Iran. They are Siamak Namazi, a business executive, his father, Baquer Namazi, a former Unicef diplomat, and Morad Tahbaz, an environmental activist. All were accused of collaboration with the United States.

Ms. White acknowledged the remaining prisoners in her statement about her son’s release.

“My prayers are with the Namazi and Tahbaz families and the families of so many other wrongfully detained Americans around the world.,” she said.

Mr. White is the second American to be freed by Iran since President Trump took office. Although relations between the United States and Iran have worsened during his administration, both sides have sent signals about possible prisoner exchanges.

In December, Iran freed Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student charged with spying, in a swap for an Iranian scientist who had been convicted in the United States on charges of violating American trade sanctions.

Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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