Iran moves Americans out of Evin Prison, places them on house arrest

Iran on Thursday moved four Americans out of the country’s notorious Evin Prison and put them under house arrest in what could be the first step of a major prisoner swap between the two longtime adversaries, according to the family of one of the detained Americans, Siamak Namazi.

Namazi, an Iranian-American, had been behind bars in Tehran for nearly eight years, the longest duration the Islamic republic has jailed any American.

Other prisoners moved to house arrest were Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian American who also holds British citizenship and Emad Shargi, an American-Iranian dual citizen, according to a statement by Jared Genser, the Namazi family’s lawyer. Both were arrested in 2018.

Who are the U.S. citizens being held in Iran?

Genser said the fourth American remained unidentified and he could not confirm their whereabouts. It appeared, he added, that a fifth U.S. citizen who was recently arrested was already out on house arrest. The Washington Post has not independently confirmed these reports, and the White House has not yet acknowledged the imprisoned Americans’ transfer.

Genser said the Biden administration told the detainees’ families Wednesday that the deal was expected to go through. On Thursday the Namazi family received visual confirmation that the three identified men had been moved from Evin prison, he said, and that in all likelihood the fourth person was with them.

Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother, said in a statement that the family was “grateful” but would continue to fight for the detainees’ full release.

“While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home,” he said. “We have suffered tremendously and indescribably for eight horrific years and wish only to be reunited again as a family.”

Siamak’s father, Baquer Namazi, 86, also was arrested by Iranian authorities when he traveled there in early 2016 to visit his son in prison. He was sentenced to prison the same day as his son. The father, who suffers from a heart condition, among other ailments, was released on medical furlough in 2018. Iran commuted his sentence in 2020, but would not permit him to leave until October 2022.

The development marks a rare bright spot in U.S.-Iran relations, which have been marked by deep distrust and a failure to revive a nuclear deal that President Biden vowed to renew when he ran for president. Tehran remains on edge for renewed unrest after crushing the anti-government protests that erupted last fall.

For months, the United States and Iran had been negotiating the terms of a prisoner release. U.S. officials declined to detail what concessions either side might make to secure an agreement, but it could entail the freeing up of $6 billion from South Korean banks, frozen under U.S. sanctions.

Since Biden came to power, Tehran has repeatedly refused to talk directly with Washington, requiring third parties to help broker discussions.

Amid the prisoner release talks, the United States and Iran have also been discussing a possible informal arrangement that would seek to place some limitations on Iran’s expanding nuclear program and avoid an international crisis.

The State Department has pushed back against reports that it has secured an agreement related to Iran’s nuclear program. “Rumors about a nuclear deal, interim or otherwise, are false and misleading,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller told reporters earlier this summer. “We have at all times believed that diplomacy is the best path forward.”

U.S. officials have also insisted prisoner negotiations are not linked to nuclear discussions. European officials, who support a deal between the United States and Iran to restrain Tehran’s nuclear program, hope that progress on detainees could help pave the way for more productive discussions.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal forged during the Obama administration that imposed strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Biden vowed to return to the deal, but the two sides have been unable to overcome profound levels of mistrust.

Namazi was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “collaboration with a hostile foreign government,” a claim that the United Nations, human rights organizations and the United States have said is baseless. He was arrested in 2015 while he was on a business trip in Iran.

The United States has said that in imprisoning Namazi and other U.S. nationals, Iran has used hostages to gain leverage in international negotiations.

Tehran’s Evin Prison has a long record of human rights abuses and is viewed as a cornerstone of Tehran’s authoritarian rule.

Beyond the release to house arrest, the departure of the Americans is expected to be contingent on the release of a select group of Iranians from U.S. prisons.


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