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Americans Freed From Iran Visit With Families, Undergo Treatment

  • VOA News

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan meets with former Iran prisoner Amir Hekmati, second from right, at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. Hekmati's family members are with them.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan meets with former Iran prisoner Amir Hekmati, second from right, at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany. Hekmati's family members are with them.

Former U.S. marine Amir Hekmati says he feels extremely lucky to be free following his release from an Iranian jail as part of a prisoner swap with the United States.

"I feel alive for the first time. It's like being born again," Hekmati said Tuesday in his first comments since release from prison.

He added that he was humbled by the support of everyone, including the U.S. president and Congress.

"I was at a point where I had just sort of accepted the fact that I was going to be spending 10 years in prison, so this was a surprise and I just feel truly blessed to see my government do so much for me and the other Americans,'' he said.

The 32-year-old said there was no advance warning of their release. "They just came one morning and said 'pack your things'," he said, adding that he did not initially believe they would be freed.

"I did not relax until we were outside of Iranian airspace. But it's finally starting to become a reality."

Hekmati, an Iranian American, was arrested in 2011 on spying charges while visiting his grandmother.

He left Iran following his release Sunday along with Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian and pastor Saeed Abedini.

Rezaian met Monday with senior editors from the Washington Post at the German hospital where he is recovering before going back to the U.S. He said he had limited human interaction during his 18 months in prison, including spending 49 days in solitary confinement.

"I want people to know that physically, I'm feeling good," he said. "I know people are eager to hear from me, but I want to process this for some time."

Rezaian was convicted of espionage charges that both the Post and U.S. government called absurd.

Former Iranian prisoner Jason Rezaian, left, is shown with his family shortly after his release. From second left, his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, his mother, Mary Rezaian, and his brother Ali Rezaian.

Former Iranian prisoner Jason Rezaian, left, is shown with his family shortly after his release. From second left, his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, his mother, Mary Rezaian, and his brother Ali Rezaian.

'Touch and go'

He said his last few hours in Iranian custody were among the most anxious, calling his departure from Iran and handover to Swiss officials as "touch and go until the last minute," fearing something would go wrong.

American pastor Saeed Abedini, who was jailed in 2012 for spreading Christianity, is also undergoing treatment at the German hospital.

It is not clear where Abedini will be reunited with his family. His wife, Naghmeh, told the Idaho Statesman newspaper Monday that she will not be traveling to Germany and instead will meet him when he flies back to the U.S. Posts on her Facebook page said she spoke with him on Sunday and that he is "doing well."

She said that after so much time in Iranian custody and away from home, she is not sure what his condition will be like, and that it will take time for their family to adjust to each other again. She also described how excited the couple's 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son are to see their father again.

Not much is known about the fourth American, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose reasons for being in Iran are still unclear.

Matthew Trevithick, detained in Iran last month on charges that were never disclosed, was freed in a deal separate from the four other Americans.

Some charges dropped

In return for freeing the four U.S. citizens, President Barack Obama offered clemency to seven Iranians who were either charged with or convicted of violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. Charges include exporting military electronics to Iran and computer hacking.

Family and friends embrace Bahram Mechanic (in the blue jump suit) and Khosrow Afghahi (in the tan jacket) at Federal Detention Center Houston, Texas, Jan.17, 2016. Several Iranian-Americans held in U.S. prisons after being charged or convicted for sanctions violations have been released under a prisoner swap.

Family and friends embrace Bahram Mechanic (in the blue jump suit) and Khosrow Afghahi (in the tan jacket) at Federal Detention Center Houston, Texas, Jan.17, 2016. Several Iranian-Americans held in U.S. prisons after being charged or convicted for sanctions violations have been released under a prisoner swap.

The Obama administration also agreed to drop charges against 14 other Iranians outside the U.S. None is in U.S. custody, and officials have determined that efforts to have them extradited will not succeed.

Iran also has agreed to try to determine the fate of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 while working on a project linked to the Central Intelligence Agency. U.S. officials have said they are not sure if he is still alive.

This undated handout photo provided by the family of Robert Levinson, shows retired-FBI agent Robert Levinson. Levinson, 64, went missing on the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007. Levinson's family received these photographs of him in April 2011.

This undated handout photo provided by the family of Robert Levinson, shows retired-FBI agent Robert Levinson. Levinson, 64, went missing on the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007. Levinson's family received these photographs of him in April 2011.

The Americans were freed as the United States and European Union lifted economic sanctions against Iran as part of last year's nuclear deal.

There was no mention of the prisoner swap while the deal was being negotiated. But Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said they repeatedly demanded that Iran free the Americans.

Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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