Coronavirus: Iran furloughs imprisoned US Navy vet amid outbreak

Iran has granted temporary release to tens of thousands of prisoners in recent weeks

This photo provided courtesy of the White family, shows U.S. Navy veteran Michael White, Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Mashhad, Iran. Two Americans imprisoned in the Middle East have been released. Iran has granted a medical furlough to U.S. Navy veteran Michael White as part of its efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus, and a Lebanese judge orderrs the release of Amer Fakhoury because more than 10 years had passed since the crimes he was accused of committing.  (Courtesy of the White Family via AP)

Iran has granted a medical furlough to a US Navy veteran who has been imprisoned in for more than a year, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday.

Michael White of Imperial Beach, California, is now in the custody of the Swiss Embassy and must remain in Iran as a condition of his furlough, which was granted as Tehran tries to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The US government will seek his full release, Mr Pompeo said, as he called on Iran to free other Americans who remain jailed there.

A spokesman for the White family said they was grateful to the Iranian government for an “interim humanitarian step".

“We continue to urge them to release Michael unconditionally so that he can return to the United States to receive the advanced medical care he needs,” Jon Franks said.

Iran has granted temporary release to tens of thousands of prisoners in recent weeks to try to contain a virus that officials fear could kill millions in the country.

 

Mr White, who had been imprisoned since July 2018, was visiting a girlfriend in Iran when he was detained and later convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, although the State Department said Thursday that he was serving a 13-year sentence.

Mr White’s mother this month called on Iran to immediately release her son, saying she was especially concerned for his well-being because he has been battling cancer.

Iran this week issued its most dire warning about the outbreak, saying millions could die there if people kept traveling and ignored health guidance.

About 9 out of 10 of the 18,000-plus confirmed cases of the virus in the Middle East come from Iran.

Before Friday’s announcement, Iran had released 85,000 prisoners on temporary leave, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British dual national long held on internationally criticised charges.

Iran’s judiciary this week denied a furlough request for Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American national convicted along with his father Baquer, a former representative for the UN children’s agency Unicef, of collaborating with a hostile power.

Baquer Namazi is on a prison furlough. But the Namazis say he remains unable to leave Iran.

Mr Pompeo on Thursday called for the release on humanitarian grounds of the Namazis as well as of Morad Tahbaz, who was part of a group of environmental activists sentenced last month on espionage charges.

Mr Pompeo also urged Iran to “honour the commitment it made to work with the US for the return of Robert Levinson".

The former FBI agent vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorised mission.

Iran has not acknowledged holding Mr Levinson, although a federal judge in Washington last week held the country liable for his disappearance in a lawsuit brought by his family.

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