Published: Wed, June 12, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Iran Frees US Resident Held Since 2015 On Spying Charges

Iran Frees US Resident Held Since 2015 On Spying Charges

Zakka operated the Arab ICT Organization, which promotes information technology and Internet freedom in the Middle East. Zakka was arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges.

Iran has agreed to hand over a USA permanent resident imprisoned for years in Tehran to Lebanese officials, an Iranian judiciary official said Tuesday, providing the first official confirmation that Nizar Zakka would be sent back to his native Lebanon.

In 2015, he disappeared in Iran.

He also denied information disseminated by semi-official Fars News Agency, which reported that Zakka would be transferred to Hezbollah.

But Iranian newspaper Sobh-e No asserted that his release was secured only following the intervention of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Freed Lebanese businessman Nizar Zakka, who was detained in Iran since 2015 for alleged anti-state activity, is pictured with Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Lebanon's internal security chief, aboard the plane in this handout released by Lebanese General Security Directorate on June 11, 2019. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other rights groups have reported allegations of torture and ill-treatment there, including solitary confinement and denial of access to medical care.

Iran holds a number of dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, as well as Chinese-born USA citizen and Princeton scholar, Xiyue Wang.

"Hezbollah played a role but the foundation was a request from President Aoun", Gen Ibrahim said. "There is some debate in Iran about whether Zakka should be released without any compensation".

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The US government has also been vocal in calling for Zakka's release.

Zakka, a computer scientist and Internet freedom advocate, was detained in Tehran after attending a conference at the invitation of the Iranian government.

Iran exerts considerable influence on Lebanese politics through Hezbollah, the only militia that was allowed to keep its weapons after the end of the civil war in 1990. "However, Ibrahim said Iran's freeing of Zakka was not part of any wider deal", the Reuters news agency said.

The contradictory statements point to a tussle in Iran over Mr Zakka's release, a source said.

Zakka, who lives in Washington and holds resident status in the US, leads the Arab ICT Organization, or IJMA3, an industry consortium from 13 countries that advocates for information technology in the region.

Zakka was held at Tehran's Evin prison, a facility established in 1972.

"Suddenly, news emerges that he's being released to Lebanese government officials", Ms Dagres said.

Zakka, who also holds US residency and was sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million fine for "collaborating against the state".

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