After months of negotiations, Iran announced the release of four Iranian Americans as part of a prisoner swap on Saturday. Among them was jailed Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.
The release, part of a broader deal and a phased end to sanctions against Iran, prompted joy from those seeking freedom for the California-born journalist who has an Iranian father and an American mother. More than 540,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for his release, and the hashtag #FreeJason had been prominent for much of his 543 days in captivity. US officials confirmed the release and said the Iranian Americans were flying out of Iran aboard a Swiss jetliner.
US officials later announced a fifth American, a student detained last month, was released separately from the prisoner swap.
After delays, Rezaian departed Iran, the Washington Post publisher said Sunday. “We are relieved that this 545-day nightmare for Jason and his family is finally over,” Frederick J. Ryan, Jr. said in a statement. Rezaian, he said, would rejoin the Washington Post newsroom after reuniting with his family.
Rezaian's family, in a statement, said: “Jason’s release has brought indescribable relief and joy to our family — this nightmare is approaching an end.”
The swap had been announced as iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, had been meeting in Vienna with Secretary of State John Kerry on implementation of the deal to delay Iran's nuclear development in exchange for an end to international sanctions.
Rezaian, 39, had been bureau chief of the Washington Post in Tehran when he was arrested in July 2014. Fifteen months later, he was convicted of unspecified charges, said to involve espionage. Iranian officials did not detail the charges, nor the prison term. The arrest, trial and jailing had been denounced as bogus by The Post and by US officials and media freedom advocates. His wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, also was allowed to leave iran, the Washington Post reported.
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Among the Americans listed by Iranian media as also being released were Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine, and Saeed Abedni, a pastor. The fourth was identified by Iranian officials as Nosratollah Khosavi-Roodsari and by Fars News Agency as Nosratollah Khosrawi-Roudsari.
Previous Iranian reports incorrectly said Siamak Namazi, a businessman, was to be freed, but Iran did not do so. Also not released was Robert Levinson, 67, a former FBI agent who went missing on an Iranian island in 2007.
Iranian media reported that seven Iranian Americans held in US prisons for violating sanctions would be released in exchange. US officials said none were wanted for violence or terrorism.
Hekmati's family, in a statement, said: “We thank everyone for your thoughts during this time. There are still many unknowns. At this point, we are hoping and praying for Amir’s long-awaited return.”
Sen. Rand Paul was among those praising the release of Abedni, who was arrested trying to set up home churches in Iran. Paul called him "an incredibly brave man who risked his life for his Christian beliefs."
The Kentucky Republican went on: "I am pleased our government did not sit idly by while an American citizen was persecuted abroad due to religious intolerance."
In seeking Rezaian's freedom, petitions said he was suffering from untreated high blood pressure and losing weight and was subjected to regular physical abuse.
The fifth American who was released and left Iran on Saturday, before the others, was identified as Matthew Trevithick. The young businessman, a Boston University grad, ran a research organization in Turkey and had been in an intensive language class in Tehran when he was arrested last month, the New Yorker reported.
From PRI's The World ©2015 Public Radio International