Iran agrees to release US resident to Lebanon

Iran agrees to release US resident to Lebanon
© ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

Iran has released a U.S. permanent resident back to his homeland of Lebanon after imprisoning him for four years, according to The Associated Press.

Nizar Zakka, who had been held since 2015, boarded a plane Tuesday accompanied by Lebanon's Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abbas, the AP reported, citing an official in Beirut.

ADVERTISEMENT

Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, was arrested four years ago while attempting to fly out of Tehran after attending a conference.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 under accusations of being a spy for the U.S., which his family and friends have denied. Zakka, a resident of Washington, D.C., is the leader of the Arab ICT Organization, a trade group comprising 13 countries that lobbies for information technology in the region.

"It is without a doubt a great day for Mr. Zakka, his family, and all those who have supported him during his unlawful imprisonment," a State Department spokesperson told The Hill. "We commend the work of the Lebanese government, including President [Joseph] Aoun, Foreign Minister [Gebran] Bassil, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and their continued efforts to press the Iranian regime for Zakka’s release."

Zakka’s supporters told then-Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLet's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster MORE that his 2015 trip to Iran was funded by State Department grants, according to the AP.

“A court has accepted the condition of freedom of Nizar Zakka and he will be handed over to Lebanese officials,” Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said earlier Tuesday, according to the Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency.

Iranian state TV said Zakka will be released as “a sign of respect” for Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Lebanon-based Islamist group Hezbollah, according to the AP. “In this regard, no negotiations have taken place at any level with any person or any government,” it said.

However, Esmaili emphasized that the release took place through proper legal channels, although Hezbollah played a role. “We reviewed the [Lebanese] president’s request through the Supreme National Security Council,” Esmaili said, according to the AP. “Also, the Lebanese Hezbollah group considered the approval of his freedom as prudent.”

--Updated at 10:23 a.m.