Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been held in an Iranian prison on spy charges for almost 18 months, were freed Saturday along with three other Iranian-Americans in a prisoner swap on the eve of the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Iran, according to the 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,” the office of Tehran prosecutor said.
There was no immediate confirmation from U.S. officials. Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti told the Associated Press that she could not confirm any change in Rezaian’s case.
Also released were Amir Hekmat, Pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosrawia, according to Iranian State TV.
Hekmati, a retired Marine from Flint, Mich., was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. He was sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years.
Abedini of Boise, Idaho, was detained for compromising national security, presumably because of Christian proselytizing, in September 2012. He was sentenced in 2013 to 8 years in prison. Abedini was previously arrested in 2009 and released after promising to stop organizing churches in homes. At time of arrest, was running an orphanage in Iran.
The announcement coincides with Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Vienna to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to finalize the lifting of Western and U.S. sanctions under the terms of a nuclear weapons deal. The official declaration that Iran has met its obligations under the agreement, expected within hours, would also free the first of some $100 million in frozen Iranian assets.
The final step in the process triggering “implementation day” would be a statement by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a United Nations’ nuclear watchdog group, that Iran had completed all its requirements under the historic agreement.
Rezaian, a dual Iran-U.S. citizen who has been in jail since July 2014, was convicted last month of espionage in a closed-door trial.
The seven Iranian-Americans in U.S. jails who are part of the prisoner swap were being held on sanctions-related charges. Under the deal, the U.S. will also drop efforts to extradite 14 Iranians for alleged involvement in the purchase of arms from the U.S. to Iran, Iranian Prosecutor Abbas Jaafari told Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency.