Iran conditionally frees Dubai-based US citizen Siamak Namazi after seven years

Father of Tehran's longest-held US prisoner also released while Venezuela frees seven Americans in a prisoner swap

Siamak Namazi (jailed in Iran) and father Baquer. courtesy: Paul Peachey
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An Iranian-American businessman who was jailed seven years ago during a visit to Tehran was temporarily released from prison, the UN said on Saturday, while his father will be allowed to leave the country after being detained there since 2016.

The move came the same day the US announced that Venezuela had freed seven jailed Americans, including five oil executives, in exchange for Washington's release of two relatives of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, US officials said.

Siamak Namazi, who became the longest-held US-Iranian detained in Iran, lived in Dubai before he was sentenced in October 2015. He received a 10-year prison term for “colluding with foreign countries”.

Citing his lawyer in the US, Reuters reported that Mr Namazi is still barred from leaving Iran and is only on a one-week furlough from Tehran’s Evin prison.

A UN statement did not say whether Mr Namazi is able to leave the country or give any details about the conditions of his release.

Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, who was based in Dubai, is pictured here in San Francisco in 2006. Handout via Reuters

Mr Namazi’s 85-year-old father, Baquer Namazi, a longtime Unicef worker who was arrested in February 2016 after authorities lured him to Iran on the false promise that he would meet his son, will be allowed to leave the country for medical care, the UN statement said.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres “is grateful that, following his appeals to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, our former colleague Baquer Namazi has been permitted to leave Iran for medical treatment abroad”, the UN said.

The announcement comes as indirect talks between Iran and the US over how to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have stalled and as Tehran’s leadership faces mounting pressure at home while anti-government protests continue to grip the country amid a violent crackdown by security forces.

Both Iranian and US officials have said recently that they had discussed prisoner exchanges through interlocutors but have always denied they are directly linked to talks over renewing the 2015 nuclear deal that the US abandoned in 2018.

Restoring that accord would release sanctions on Iran’s struggling economy in exchange for limits on its nuclear activity.

Economic malaise and a confluence of other grievances related to civil liberties have converged during current protests in Iran, now in their third week.

In a tweet on Saturday, Iran’s state-run Nour News said “intense negotiations” mediated by a Middle Eastern country had led to the “simultaneous release” of Iranian and US prisoners and that billions of dollars of Iranian funds that are frozen overseas because of sanctions would soon be released as part of the talks.

The state news agency Irna said Tehran was expecting the release of $7bn held in South Korea.

"With the finalisation of negotiations between Iran and the United States to release the prisoners of both countries, $7 billion of Iran's blocked resources will be released," it said.

The White House denied this. “Reports from Iranian sources of a transfer of funds related to the release of Baquer Namazi and furlough of Siamak Namazi are categorically false,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on Sunday.

Earlier, US State Department spokesman Ned Price thanked Washington’s “allies and partners who have worked tirelessly to help the Namazis”, including the UN secretary general, Switzerland, Qatar, Oman and the UK.

“Our efforts are far from over.  We remain committed and determined to securing the freedom of all Americans unjustly detained in Iran and elsewhere,” Mr Price said In a statement welcoming the release of the two men.

US wins release of Venezuela-held Americans in swap With Maduro

On Saturday, President Joe Biden said Venezuela had freed seven Americans in a swap involving two members of Venezuelan leader Mr Maduro’s family.

The swap included executives of Citgo Petroleum held for years, in addition to US Marine veteran Matthew Heath and another US citizen named Osman Khan, the officials said. They were exchanged for two of Mr Maduro's wife's nephews, who had been convicted on drug charges, the officials said.

Mr Biden said in a statement that the “wrongfully detained” Americans would soon be reunited with their relatives.

“Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more. To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained — know that we remain dedicated to securing their release,” Mr Biden said.

The prisoner transfer, which one US official said took place at an airport in an unspecified third country, followed months of secretive talks with Mr Maduro's socialist government, which is under strict US sanctions, including on the Opec nation's energy sector.

It came at a time when Washington is under growing pressure to do more to secure freedom for dozens of Americans held abroad. Much of the Biden administration's focus has been on Russia's detention of WNBA star Brittney Griner and another American, Paul Whelan.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said he welcomed the liberation of the seven “wrongfully detained” US nationals in Venezuela.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: October 02, 2022, 5:52 PM