Iran released four U.S. citizens it had held as prisoners for years, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, as part of a swap deal, according to Iranian news media. “Based on an approval of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and the general interests of the Islamic Republic, four Iranian prisoners with dual-nationality were freed today within the framework of a prisoner swap deal,” noted a statement by the Tehran prosecutor.
The semiofficial Fars news agency identified Rezaian, who was born in California, among the four being released. The other three are former marine Amir Hekmat of Michigan, who was detained in August 2011; pastor Saeed Abedini of Idaho, who was detained in 2012; and Nosratollah Khosrawi, whose detention had not been previously announced. Initial reports that claimed Siamak Namazi, an oil company executive who was arrested in October, was the fourth inmate freed were incorrect, according to Fars.
Reports also claim the U.S. agreed to free seven Iranian Americans held for sanctions-related charges in exchange, notes Iran’s Tasnim News Agency. Washington had yet to confirm the news.
“We are elated by the news that Jason Rezaian has been released from Evin Prison and has left Iran,” said Washington Post Publisher Frederick J. Ryan Jr. “Once we receive more details and can confirm Jason has safely landed outside of Iran, we will have more to share.”
The news of the release of the prisoners came shortly after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had said international sanctions against Iran would be lifted on Saturday. The International Atomic Energy Agency was expected to announce that Tehran had complied with the requirements of an international agreement and scaled back its nuclear program. (Update, Jan. 17, 2016: The sanctions were lifted.)
Rezaian, who has also written for Slate, was arrested in July 2014 and sentenced to prison in November. He was accused of espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and publishing “propaganda against the establishment.” At the time, the Washington Post’s foreign editor said that Rezaian’s “trial and sentence are a sham.”