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US Ex-prisoners Land in Germany, End Years of Iranian Captivity

  • VOA News

Several Americans freed by Iran as part of a prisoner swap with the United States have arrived in Germany after leaving Tehran Sunday.

After a stopover in Geneva, Switzerland, the plane carrying three of them landed in Germany, where the men were to receive medical treatment at a U.S. military hospital.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Twitter that "today, all Americans celebrate the freedom of our fellow citizens."

Kerry said Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini are safely in Germany. Rezaian was accompanied by his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, and his mother.

He added that two other Americans "unjustly held in Iran" were also released, and named them as Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari and Matthew Trevithick.

The release of the American prisoners was announced Saturday, just hours before Iranian and Western diplomats in Vienna announced implementation of a nuclear pact between Western powers and Iran.

FILE - Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, is seen in an April 11, 2013, photo.

FILE - Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, is seen in an April 11, 2013, photo.

Rezaian, an Iranian-American who served as the Post's Tehran bureau chief, was arrested in 2014 on espionage charges and spent over 500 days in jail, despite pleas and protests by the U.S. government, the Post, family and friends.

He was convicted on the espionage charges in a secret trial last year, but his sentence had never been disclosed.

Late Sunday, the Post published a memo sent to the newspaper's newsroom describing a telephone conversation between Rezaian, executive editor Martin Baron and foreign editor Douglas Jehl.

It said Rezaian was in good spirits and that he felt better than he did several months ago – and that his mind is sharp.

According to his editors, Rezaian found escape in the fiction stories he was allowed to read. After his release, the Post reporter says he read news coverage on his mother's iPad, according to The Associated Press.

Baron and Jehl wrote that Rezaian hopes to meet with the editors in person tomorrow -- and in the meantime, just looked forward to getting some sleep, the AP reported.

'545-day nightmare'

Publisher Frederick Ryan released a statement saying the newspaper is "relieved that this 545-day nightmare for Jason and his family is finally over."

FILE - In this video frame grab image made from the Iranian broadcaster IRIB TV, U.S. citizen Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, accused by Iran of spying for the CIA, sits in Tehran's revolutionary court, in Iran, Dec. 27, 2011.

FILE - In this video frame grab image made from the Iranian broadcaster IRIB TV, U.S. citizen Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, accused by Iran of spying for the CIA, sits in Tehran's revolutionary court, in Iran, Dec. 27, 2011.

Brett McGurk, a special envoy for the Obama administration, welcomed Rezaian with a tweet during the latter's stop-over in Geneva. "Thrilled to see #JasonRezaian land safely in #Geneva tonight after 18 months of unjust imprisonment in #Iran."

The other three ex-detainees are: Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an Iranian-American and former U.S. Marine arrested in 2011 on spying charges while visiting his grandmother; Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor imprisoned since 2012; and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose name had not been made public until Saturday.

The fifth American released, student Matthew Trevithick, had been detained for 40 days while in Iran for an intensive language program to increase his fluency in Dari, a language closely related to Farsi.

Trevithick's release was separate from those of the other four Americans.

Seven Iranians released

On the other side, U.S. President Barack Obama offered clemency to seven Iranians who have either been charged or convicted for violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran.

Khosrow Afghahi makes his way to a waiting car at Federal Detention Center Houston in Houston, Texas, Jan. 17, 2016.

Khosrow Afghahi makes his way to a waiting car at Federal Detention Center Houston in Houston, Texas, Jan. 17, 2016.

Three of them, Bahram Mechanic, Tooraj Faridi and Khosrow Afghani, are accused of exporting electronics to Iran. Nader Modanlo was convicted in 2012 for helping Iran to place its first-ever satellite into orbit in 2005.

Two other men, Arash Ghahreman and Ali Saboonchi, were each convicted in separate cases, while Nima Golestaneh pleaded guilty last month in connection with the hacking of a Vermont-based software company in 2012.

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

Robert Levinson

As part of the prisoner release, Iran agreed to try to determine the fate of Robert Levinson, a former U.S. agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who disappeared there in 2007 while working on a project that has been linked to the CIA.

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.

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.

U.S. officials have said they are unsure he is still alive, but said that Iran has "committed to continue cooperating with the United States to determine the whereabouts of Levinson."

The lengthy and complex negotiations with Iran about its nuclear program climaxed in an agreement announced last July, but there was no mention of the prisoners issue at the time.

Obama and other senior U.S. officials have said they repeatedly demanded the release of Iran's American prisoners, but there had been, nevertheless, widespread criticism of the administration for failing to secure a firm agreement on the prisoners' release earlier.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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