NEW YORK — Five American citizens held for years in Iran under what U.S. officials describe as brutal conditions were freed Monday and allowed to fly out of the country, the result of months of secret negotiations, President Joe Biden said.
In exchange, Iran will gain access to $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue that has been frozen, and five Iranian citizens imprisoned in the U.S. will be released.
“Today, five innocent Americans who were imprisoned in Iran are finally coming home,” Biden said in a statement. “Still, too many remain unjustly held in Russia, Venezuela, Syria, and elsewhere around the world. We remain unflinching in our efforts to keep faith with them and their families — and we will not stop working until we bring home every American held hostage or wrongfully detained.”
The former prisoners flew in a Qatari government airplane to Doha before continuing to Washington. Several senior Biden administration officials were on hand to greet them in the Qatari capital.
Deemed wrongfully detained by the U.S., they were moved from the notorious Evin prison in Tehran last month to house arrest as the first step in the complicated deal. Among the five was Siamek Namazi, 51, the longest held at eight years.
“For almost eight years I have been dreaming of this day. Now that it is finally here, I find my ineffable joy of my forthcoming reunification with my family is laced with sorrow — a painful and deep feeling of guilt for taking my breaths in freedom while so many courageous individuals that I love and admire continue languishing behind those walls,” Namazi said in a statement through his lawyer.
“All the political prisoners of Iran, a country where the indomitable courage of women leaves us in awe, deserve their liberty,” he added.
Others who were freed include Emad Shargi, 59, a businessman like Namazi, and Morad Tahbaz, 67, an environmentalist. The two others, at least one of whom is a woman, have declined to be publicly identified. Shargi and Tahbaz were arrested in 2018. Two other U.S. citizens — Namazi’s mother, Effie Namazi, and Tahbaz’s wife, Vita Tahbaz — who had been prevented from leaving Iran were also on the plane.
The three identified men are dual U.S. and Iranian citizens and were imprisoned on what Iran called security-related charges. Namazi’s father, Baquer, was also arrested by Iran in 2016 when he went to visit his son but was released in October on “humanitarian grounds,” Tehran officials said. He is 86 years old and in poor health.
All of the former prisoners were categorized by the U.S. government as “wrongfully detained,” which means a new division within the State Department worked exclusively on securing their freedom.
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