American journalist Jason Rezaian is among four U.S. citizens released by Iran as part of a prisoner swap, according to Iranian media.
The Washington Post reporter has been held by Iran since July 2014, when he was arrested and convicted of espionage offences.
No names have been officially released yet but the released men are believed to be Mr Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, pastor Saeed Abedini and businessman Siamak Namazi, all of whom have U.S.-Iranian dual nationality.
The prisoner swap came as economic sanctions against Iran were set to be lifted as part of the Islamic republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.
American journalist Jason Rezaian is among four U.S. citizens released by Iran as part of a prisoner swap, according to Iranian media
Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati (left) and pastor Saeed Abedini (right) are also believed to be among those released today
The fourth man freed is said to be Siamak Namazi, a businessman arrested in Tehran last year
Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, said she had ‘no information’ on whether he was among those freed.
Pastor Saeed Abedni, in jail for three years after being convicted of undermining national security, and former US Marine Amir Hekmati, who is serving 10 years for cooperating with hostile governments, are also said to have been released.
The fourth man freed is said to be Siamak Namazi, a businessman arrested in Tehran last year. He had campaigned for closer ties between the U.S. and Iran.
All four will fly to Switzerland on a Swiss plane before being repatriated.
In return for the four men being freed, seven Iranian prisoners were sent back to Tehran, according to a source in Iran.
The source added that Iran refused to free the four men until the seven swapped prisoners had returned home.
‘Authorities at the top had agreed to free the four Iranian-Americans only after the Iranian prisoners land in Tehran,’ he said.
Rezaian, who was born in California, was convicted in closed proceedings last year after being charged with espionage. The Post and the U.S. government denied the accusations, as did Rezaian.
He was sentenced to an undisclosed amount of time in jail .
The Washington Post reporter has been held by Iran since July 2014, when he was arrested and convicted of espionage offences
The reporter, who was the Post’s Tehran correspondent was originally detained with his wife in July 2014, but she was released on bail in October that year.
Former Marine Amir Hekmati, originally from Flint, Michigan, was arrested in Iran on espionage charges in 2011.
His family said he has lost significant weight in jail and has trouble breathing, raising fears he could have contracted tuberculosis.
Mr Hekmati went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother.
After his arrest, his family says they were told to keep the matter quiet. He was sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison.
Pastor Saeed Abedini, from Boise, Idaho, was detained in 2012 for compromising national security after he was found to be preaching Christianity.
He was sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison. President Barack Obama met his wife and children in 2015.
There are claims he was beaten in Iranian prison.
Siamak Namazi was working at Crescent Petroleum when his home was ransacked by Iranian authorities in October last year. He was arrested and has been detained since then.
The announcement of the prisoners’ release came – and was likely directly linked to – the imminent lifting of sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.
Sanctions against Iran are set to be lifted today. Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif (pictured center in 2014) arrived in Vienna to meet officials from the UN
Sanctions are set to be lifted today as last July’s controversial nuclear deal between Iran and world powers led by the United States was expected to be implemented.
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif arrived in Vienna, headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. body expected to issue a report triggering the lifting of sanctions imposed by the UN, U.S., and EU.
Most of the sanctions will be removed today, freeing up the country’s economy which has been hit by reduced exports.
Zarif is due to meet Secretary of Stgate John Kerry, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, and IAEA chief Yukiya Amano later today.
‘Implementation day’ of the nuclear deal agreed last year marks the biggest re-entry of a former pariah state onto the global economic stage since the end of the Cold War.
It also marks a turning point in the hostility between Iran and the United States that has shaped the Middle East since 1979.
Under the deal, Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium, which world powers feared could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
Once sanctions are lifted, Iran plans to swiftly ramp up its exports of oil. Global companies that have been barred from doing business there are likely to set up shop almost immediately.
All of the Republican candidates running to be the next president of the United States have opposed the deal, with some saying they would tear it up if they took office.