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Iran frees Lebanese man, U.S. resident imprisoned for spying

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Iran frees Lebanese man, U.S. resident imprisoned for spying
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed to release a Lebanese man who had spent nearly four years in prison on spying charges. File Photo by presidential office handout/EPA-EFE 


June 11 (UPI) -- A Lebanese man who spent nearly four years in an Iranian prison on spying charges will be released, the government in Tehran announced Tuesday.

Nizar Zakka, 52, is a permanent U.S. resident who was accused of spying on Iran for the United States when he attended a conference in 2015. The United States subsequently called for his release.

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Zakka operated the Arab ICT Organization, which promotes information technology and Internet freedom in the Middle East. Zakka was arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges. He was also fined $4.2 million.

Officials said Lebanese President Michel Aoun negotiated with Tehran to have Zakka released.

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Iran judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said the court agreed to hand Zakka over to Lebanese authorities.

"As per the law, those who are sentenced to up to 10 years in jail, if they have served at least one-third of their term and shown good behavior can be released conditionally," Esmaili said.

"After more than 1,350 days in captivity in Iran, we have received excellent news: Mr. Nizar Zakka is a free man," attorney Jason Poblete said in a statement Tuesday. "Nizar looks forward to reuniting with family and friends. Nizar expresses his sincerest thanks to those who never forgot him."

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Tensions between the United States and Iran escalated in recent months with both sides trading threats and U.S. sanctions further limiting where Iran can sell its crude oil. Tensions have also been heightened by the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, which had lifted key sanctions against Tehran.

Monday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met with Iranian officials to discuss saving the agreement, saying Britain and France are also hopeful it will be salvaged. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Tehran Wednesday.

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