Lebanese security head travels to Tehran to secure Nizar Zakka release

The Lebanese national and US permanent resident has been in detention for nearly four years

FILE --This March 6, 2013 handout file image provided by the Friends of Nizar Zakka, shows Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese technology expert and advocate for Internet freedom, delivering a speech during the MENA ICT Forum conference in Jordan. Supporters of  Zakka, a U.S. permanent resident, detained for a year in Iran over spying allegations say he's been sentenced to 10 years in prison and given a $4.2 million fine. The sentence for  Zakka, who advocates for Internet freedom, comes ahead of Iranian officials attending the United Nations General Assembly this week in New York. (Courtesy of Friends of Nizar Zakka group via AP, File)
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Head of Lebanon's General Security Maj Gen Abbas Ibrahim has flown to Tehran to secure the release of Lebanese national and permanent US resident Nizar Zakka who has been detained in Iran for nearly four years.

General Security, one of the main Lebanese security branches, announced that Maj Gen Ibrahim left on Sunday afternoon. The news came a day after local newspaper The Daily Star quoted sources saying that Mr Zakka would return within 48 hours.

“Major General Abbas Ibrahim left Beirut this afternoon for Tehran to complete efforts to release Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka,” General Security said in a tweet on Sunday.

Iran said it had received a request for amnesty but are yet to make a decision.

"We have received a request filed by the accused and other Lebanese officials to grant amnesty and release him. We are looking into this request as a special case," Gholamhossein Esmaili, spokesman for Iran's judiciary said, according to Fars news agency.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei pardoned some 700 prisoners on Sunday, but the judiciary spokesman said Mr Zakka's name was not on the list.

Mr Zakka was arrested by Iranian authorities when he travelled to the country in 2015 at the invitation of the government to address a conference. Soon after, Iranian state TV said that he was a spy. Reports in government-linked media reported that he had been sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $4.2 million (Dh 15.4m) fine on charges of espionage.

Lebanese officials have been mediating for his release. Iran said on June 4 that Mr Zakka would be released.

The Lebanese Foreign Minister said last week that Iran had agreed to release Mr Zakka as a goodwill gesture for Ramadan.

Mr Zakka has undertaken several hunger strikes to protest his detention but his lawyer has said that it has impacted his health.

The Lebanese national was being held in the notorious Evin prison, used to house political dissidents, activists, prominent academics who have fallen afoul of the government and foreign hostages. British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is held in the women's wing of the prison nicknamed the Evin University due to the number of intellectuals, writers and journalists who have been held there.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun instructed Maj Gen Ibrahim with organizing Mr Zakka’s release after President Hassan Rouhani said he was ready to receive a Lebanese delegation to oversee his extradition.

US officials have commented on Mr Zakka’s case given that he is a permanent resident, although it doesn’t appear that they have taken an active role in trying to secure his release.

Mr Zakka is a prominent IT expert who specialises in Arab information and communications systems. He has worked for US IT and telecoms giants such as Cisco and Microsoft but has also done contracts with USAID, the American government development agency.