Iran releases U.S. resident accused of spying


Lebanese citizen and permanent USA resident Nizar Zakka, who was imprisoned for years in Iran, has been freed and is on his way back to his native Lebanon, officials confirmed.

Lebanon's head of general security Abbas Ibrahim told Reuters on Monday that the detainee, who has United States residency, would be freed by Iran and that the two would return to Lebanon.

Earlier Tuesday, an Iranian judiciary official confirmed that Tehran has agreed to hand over Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, to Lebanese officials.

Zakka, an information technology expert and permanent U.S. resident in Washington DC, disappeared in Tehran while attending a state-sponsored conference in September 2015.

Although Iran has recently portrayed Zakka's case as a matter between Iran and Lebanon, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in 2016 said it was a problem mainly between Tehran and Washington. There was no immediate comment from US authorities on his release.

Zakka is expected to head from the airport to the presidential palace where he will be received by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who had personally requested his release.

Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or ties to the West held in Iran. Both the Congress and the Senate passed resolutions in 2017 calling for the unconditional release of U.S. citizens and residents detained in Iran, including the Lebanese national.

Mr Zakka was arrested in September 2015 after being invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Iranian government.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard detained Zakka in 2015 after he attended a conference in Tehran on the invitation of one of the country's vice presidents.

On Monday, state TV said Zakka was to be released "only because of the respect and dignity" Iran has for the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The conditions of Zakka's release were not specified. Iranian media has described him as a US spy. He was convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The US government has also been vocal in calling for Zakka's release.

Sarah Fallah, a Lebanese lawyer who represented Zakka, told HRW in March 2016 that Iranian authorities refused to let her visit her client.