Middle East

Five US dual citizens detained in Iran moved out of prison to house arrest

Five US dual citizens detained by Iran have left Tehran’s Evin prison and are now under house arrest, in a move which could indicate the start of a possible prisoner swap between the two countries.

The Iranian Americans include the businessmen Siamak Namazi, 51, and Emad Shargi, 58, as well as the environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who also has British nationality, said Jared Genser, a lawyer who represents Namazi. The identity of the other two US citizens has not been made public.

“The move by Iran of the American hostages from Evin prison to an expected house arrest is an important development,” Genser said in a statement. “While I hope this will be the first step to their ultimate release, this is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more … There are simply no guarantees about what happens from here.”

A spokesperson for the National Security Council, Adrienne Watson, confirmed that the five Americans had been moved to house arrest, and said negotiations for their release were continuing.

Watson described the transfer as “an encouraging step” – but adding that they should never have been detained in the first place.

“We will not rest until they are all back home in the United States. Until that time, negotiations for their eventual release remain ongoing and are delicate. We will, therefore, have little in the way of details to provide about the state of their house arrest or about our efforts to secure their freedom,” she said.

Freeing the five would remove a major irritant between the United States and Iran, though the nations remain at odds on issues from the Iranian nuclear program to Tehran’s support for Shi’ite militias in nations such as Iraq and Lebanon.

Namazi, who in 2016 was convicted of espionage-related charges the United States has rejected as baseless, has been detained by Iran for more than seven years. His father, Baquer, was allowed to leave Iran in October for medical treatment after being detained on similar charges also rejected by Washington.

Tahbaz was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for “assembly and collusion against Iran’s national security” and working for the United States as a spy. Shargi was convicted of espionage in 2020 and also sentenced to 10 years.

Iranian Americans, whose US citizenship is not recognized by Tehran, are often pawns between the two nations, which are at odds over issues including Iran’s expanding nuclear program.

In February, NBC News reported Washington and Tehran were holding indirect talks exploring a prisoner exchange and the transfer of billions of dollars of Iranian funds in South Korean banks currently blocked by US sanctions. If transferred, those funds could only be spent for humanitarian purposes.

Any transfer could draw Republican criticism that Joe Biden had effectively paid a ransom for the US citizens and that Iran using that money for humanitarian purposes could free up funds for its nuclear program or to support militias in nations such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign Office said: “We are pleased to see British national Morad Tahbaz has been released on furlough. This is a first step, and we remain focussed on his permanent release.”


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