UPDATE: U.S. officials have confirmed the four prisoners released by Iran are Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, who had not previously been named.
The fifth American freed incidental to the deal was Matthew Trevithick, a student. His family said he had traveled to Iran for a four-month language program associated with Tehran University and ended up in Evin Prison. They gave no reason for his detention.
Trevithick already is on his way back to the United States. The other former prisoners were being taken to Germany via Switzerland to receive medical treatment at a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl.
The deal did not include freedom for Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who advocated better ties between Iran and the U.S. He was reportedly arrested in October. U.S. officials also haven’t come any closer to learning the fate of Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran while working for the CIA. The Iranian government continues to claim it has no knowledge of Levinson’s whereabouts. His family received a proof-of-life video in 2011, but U.S. officials say they’re not sure Levinson, a former FBI agent, is still alive.
Seven Iranians were released or pardoned as part of the deal: Nader Modanloo, Bahram Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahraman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh and Ali Saboonchi. They are free to remain in the United States, and it’s not clear how many plan to return to Iran.
As part of the deal, the United States also agreed to drop international arrest warrants for 14 Iranian fugitives.
UPDATE: Abedini family members and supporters rejoiced this morning over news that Saeed Abedini has finally gained his freedom after three years in an Iranian jail.
“This has been an answer to prayer,” said Naghmeh Abedini after learning about her husband's release. “This is a critical time for me and my family. We look forward to Saeed’s return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”
Under a prisoner swap worked out today, Abedini and four other Americans will travel to Switzerland before returning to U.S. soil. The United States will return to Iran seven of its nationals.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he was grateful for Abedini’s freedom.
“The prayers of the body of Christ all over the world have been answered,” he said. “This day of celebration should remind us to pray and work all the more for the multitudes still persecuted for their faith all over the world, including in Iran. We hope and long for the day when Iran, and nations like it, are free from those who wish to enslave the conscience at the point of a sword.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Abedini’s release was particularly poignant because it came on Jan. 16—recognized as Religious Freedom Day in the United States.
“Today is a day for rejoicing, and we pray it will prompt the administration to make the promotion of religious freedom a greater priority, and do so by designating ISIS’s attempts to exterminate minority religious groups—including Christians—as genocide,” Perkins said. “The reality is that there are Christians and religious minorities throughout the Middle East and around the world who look toward America, hoping they are not forgotten and that someone will speak out on their behalf.”
UPDATE: U.S. officials confirmed they will pardon or drop charges against seven Iranians in exchange for the four Americans held in Iranian jails. Iran also announced it would release a fifth American who was not part of the deal. Iranian state media confirmed the identities of only three of the freed prisoners: pastor Saeed Abedini, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati.
Negotiations for the prisoner swap have taken 14 months, and only in the last 24 hours did the two countries reach an agreement, according to an Obama administration official.
The news of the prisoner swap came as world leaders met in Vienna to finalize details to end international sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran’s promise to curtail its nuclear program.
It’s been a controversial deal in the United States.
Republicans warned the deal could bolster Iran financially and help the country advance its nuclear program, instead of curtailing it. Many Republicans questioned how the U.S. will ensure Iranian officials keep their pledge to stop developing the country’s nuclear ambitions.
Last summer, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Secretary of State John Kerry: “I believe you’ve been fleeced.” But the Obama administration has defended the Iran deal, and Kerry was one of the leaders arriving in Vienna on Saturday to discuss the next steps.
The news also came days after Iranian officials detained 10 U.S. sailors, releasing them after 18 hours. Iranian officials released a video of the U.S. sailors apologizing for entering Iranian waters and saying their captors treated them well.
For Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor arrested during a visit to Iran in 2012, good treatment hasn’t been the norm. Abedini has reported (through phone calls and visitors) a series of abuses at the hands of his guards and fellow prisoners.
In July, officials at the American Center for Law and Justice reported prisoners had beaten Abedini again, and the group warned: “With every beating, with every demand that he recant his faith in Christ and become Muslim or else be forced to serve even more than his eight-year sentence, Pastor Saeed’s situation becomes more dangerous.”
Abedini immigrated to the United States in 2005, a few years after converting to Christianity in Iran and becoming active in the country’s house church movement. He became an American citizen in 2010.
Abedini returned to Iran in 2012 to visit an orphanage he was helping to build. Authorities arrested him during his visit, and sentenced him to 8 years in prison. The regime claimed he was a threat to national security.
His wife, Naghmeh, told the United Nations in 2013: “Iran has kept Saeed imprisoned because he believes that Jesus Christ died on the cross for forgiveness of sin and to reconcile humanity to God.”
OUR EARLIER REPORT: The Iranian government this morning freed pastor Saeed Abedini and three other prisoners with dual citizenship, ending what for many has been a years-long ordeal.
Abedini, who converted to Christianity while still in Iran, immigrated to the United States in 2005. He became a U.S. citizen in 2010 but remained active in Iran’s house church movement. He was arrested in 2012 during a trip to visit a nonsectarian orphanage he was helping to build. His wife, Naghmeh, lobbied tirelessly for his release, but supporters expressed frustration with the lack of help from the Obama administration.
Naghmeh Abedini confirmed her husband’s release on Twitter, as did Jay Sekulow with the American Center for Law and Justice, which has represented the family.
The other prisoners involved in the release have not been confirmed, but Iran was known to be holding three other Americans: Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and businessman Siamak Namazi.
Neither the U.S. government nor Iranian officials have elaborated on the details of the release, except to say it was done “within the framework of exchanging prisoners.” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are meeting this weekend in Vienna.
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: January 25, 2016