The US said on Thursday that five Americans who were unjustly detained by Iran had been released from prison and placed on house arrest.
“While this is an encouraging step, these US citizens – Siamak Namazi, Morad Tahbaz, Emad Shargi, and two Americans who at this time wish to remain private – should have never been detained in the first place,” National Security Council Spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
“We will continue to monitor their condition as closely as possible. Of course, we will not rest until they are all back home in the United States,” Watson added.
Iran’s mission at the United Nations confirmed the transfer of American inmates out of Tehran’s Evin prison, state media reported.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran’s mission at the United Nations confirmed the news of the release of dual-citizen prisoners from Tehran’s Evin Prison,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported.
It said their release was secured through an agreement mediated “by a third party,” with each side “granting amnesty and releasing five prisoners.”
Reports suggest that the US will unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian funds held in South Korea as well as other jailed Iranians in the US.
But the NSC official said negotiations for their eventual release remained ongoing and were delicate. “We will, therefore, have little in the way of details to provide about the state of their house arrest or about our efforts to secure their freedom,” Watson said.
The Americans were moved from Tehran’s notorious Evin prison to an undisclosed house, a lawyer for the Namazi family said.
Sources said that a fifth American was also part of the discussions and had already been moved in recent weeks to house arrest.
“We are grateful that Siamak and the other Americans in Iran are out of Evin prison and will be under house arrest,” said Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother.
“While this is a positive change, we will not rest until Siamak and others are back home; we continue to count the days until this can happen,” he said in a statement.
A lawyer for the Namazi family, Jared Genser, also welcomed the step but cautioned that the Americans were not yet out.
“While I hope this will be the first step to their ultimate release, this is at best the beginning of the end and nothing more,” he said.
All of the detained Americans are of Iranian descent. Iran does not recognize dual nationality and has had hostile relations with the United States since the 1979 Islamic Revolution toppled the pro-Western shah.
Namazi, a businessman, was arrested in October 2015. He was accused of spying on what his family calls laughable evidence such as past affiliations with US think tanks.
His father, former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi, was himself arrested as he went to help his son but was finally released last year as his health deteriorated.
Tahbaz, an Iranian-American who also holds British nationality, was arrested alongside other environmentalists in January 2018 and sentenced to 10 years in jail for “conspiring with America.”
Sharqi is a venture capitalist who was also sentenced to 10 years on spying charges.
“No sanctions relief to Iran”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that the release of five Americans from prison in Iran was a “positive step” and the beginning of a process that he expects will lead to their return to the United States.
Blinken told reporters at a new conference after a meeting with his Mexican counterpart that the State Department had spoken with the five Americans on Thursday and that he was not aware of any other Americans still detained in Iran.
Blinken said that the United States would offer no sanctions relief to Iran under a draft deal that would free the Americans.
“Iran will not be receiving any sanctions relief,” Blinken told reporters when asked about the expected release of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds.
Former US Vice President Mike Pence, who is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said the proposed deal would provide Iran with money to produce drones for Russia and “fund terrorism.”