Washington — Five U.S. citizens who were detained in Iran were released Monday as part of a deal negotiated by the Biden administration with the Islamic Republic of Iran that secured their freedom and saw the transfer of roughly $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian oil assets.
The American detainees include three who were imprisoned after they were sentenced on substantiated charges of spying and declaredwrongfully detainedby the U.S. government. Two others, one of which is a female former United Nations worker, wished to remain anonymous, according to U.S. officials.
The politically charged agreement that brought the five Americans home included not only the Iranian regime gaining access to $6 billion of dollars in blocked funds, but also the release five Iranians facing charges in the U.S.
A total of seven Americans boarded a Qatari plane in Tehran on Monday that was bound for Doha, Qatar — the five U.S. citizens who were wrongfully imprisoned and two of their family members who were banned from traveling. Upon their arrival in Doha, they were to be transferred to U.S. custody and then flown to the Washington, D.C., area, where they were to be reunited with their families, a senior administration official said.
Upon their return to the U.S., the Americans will have the option of going through a support process at a military hospital at Fort Belvoir in Virginia to prepare for their re-entry following captivity.
The Americans’ release from Tehran comes after four of the detainees were moved from Iran’s notorious Evin Prison and placed under house arrest in August. The fifth American was already under house arrest.
Siamak Namazi, a 51-year-old Iranian-American businessman, was detained in Iran in 2015 while he was visiting his parents. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly collaborating with a foreign government. Namazi’s mother, Effie Namazi, was also on the flight out of Tehran. She was previously unable to leave Iran.
Namazi was not included in a 2016 prisoner swap that freed four other detained Americans, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian.
Earlier this year, Namazi went on a seven-day hunger strike, one day for each year since he was left behind in the 2016 deal.
“I went on hunger strike because I’ve learned the hard way that U.S. presidents tend to rely more on their political thermometer than their moral compass when deciding whether or not to enter a prisoner deal with Iran,” he said. “I denied myself food for an entire week so that maybe President Biden will recognize just how desperate the situation of the U.S. hostages here has become.”
His father, Baquer Namazi, was also arrested by Iranian authorities in 2016 while he traveled there to visit his son in prison. The elder Namazi, a former U.N. official, was released on medical furlough in 2018 and had his sentence commuted in 2020 because of his deteriorating health. Iran prohibited him from leaving the country until October 2022.
In a statement after his release, Namazi said he “experienced the worst of humanity” while in Evin Prison.
“But outside of those walls, there were countless people who reminded me of the best of humanity,” he said. “They learned of our family’s suffering and, in innumerable small and big ways, contributed to our freedom.”
Namazi said he needed to address some health issues and planned to spend time with family, as well as “simply enjoy some of the many things I have long been denied,” including being in nature and visiting an Apple Store.
“I am dying to find out what gadgets now exist — when I was taken hostage, the iPhone 6S had just come out. You cannot imagine what an eight-year itch feels like,” he said.
Emad Shargi, an American citizen who was born in Iran and left as a child, was detained in April 2018. He and his wife had relocated to the country after their daughters left for college.
Shargi, 56, was released on bail and cleared of the charges eight months later, but the Iranian government withheld his passport and barred him from leaving the country. He was arrested again in 2020 and sentenced to 10 years in prison after learning he had been convicted in absentia on espionage charges.
His daughters, Ariana and Hannah, wrote in the Washington Post in 2021 that their father liked to make jokes and listen to classical music on the radio. They said he attended every one of their soccer games and musicals, bringing them flowers, read all of their college essays and made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches “cut into perfect triangles” every morning when they were younger.
“We have been waiting for this day for almost five and a half years and I can’t wait to hug my brother and never let him go,” Shargi’s sister said in a statement after his release. She said Shargi was “beaming and incredibly grateful” when he spoke with his family on video calls once he arrived in Doha.
Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American who also holds British citizenship, was arrested in 2018. The 67-year-old was arrested with eight environmentalists from the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which Tahbaz co-founded. He was sentenced in 2019 to 10 years in prison on spying charges.
Tahbaz, who has three children, has a history of cancer and has been in ill health while incarcerated.
His wife, Vida Tahbaz, had been prohibited from leaving Iran for several years, but joined her husband on the flight out of Tehran, according to a senior administration official.
Two unidentified Americans
Citing privacy considerations, U.S. officials said the two other Americans involved in the agreement wished to remain anonymous.
Speaking to “Face the Nation” on July 16, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed efforts were underway to bring home four American prisoners, the first public acknowledgement that another American was in custody. Since then, and amid ongoing indirect diplomatic outreach, a fifth American was detained.
Margaret Brennan contributed reporting.