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Iran, U.S. swap prisoners amid tensions

Going back home: U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, with freed American Xiyue Wang in Zurich, Switzerland, on Saturday; right, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with scientist Massoud Soleimani.

Going back home: U.S. special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, with freed American Xiyue Wang in Zurich, Switzerland, on Saturday; right, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif with scientist Massoud Soleimani.  

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Chinese-born American Xiyue Wang had been imprisoned in Iran over spying charges

An Iranian held in the U.S. and an American held in Iran have been freed, the two sides said on Saturday, in an apparent prisoner swap at a time of heightened tensions.

Tehran announced the release of Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani from the United States shortly before Washington declared American researcher Xiyue Wang was returning home.

“Glad that Professor Massoud Soleimani and Mr. Xiyue Wang will be joining their families shortly,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Many thanks to all engaged, particularly the Swiss government,” which has looked after U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic ties, Mr. Zarif said.

3 years in detention

In a statement issued in Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump said that “after more than three years of being held prisoner in Iran, Xiyue Wang is returning to the United States”. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was “pleased that Tehran has been constructive in this matter” while also thanking Switzerland for its role. A statement on the Iranian judiciary'’ Mizan Online website said Mr. Wang had been “freed on Islamic clemency” and handed over to Swiss officials in order to be returned to America.

Mr. Wang, a Chinese-born American, was serving 10 years on espionage charges in Iran. A doctoral candidate in history at Princeton University, he had been researching Iran’s Qajar dynasty when he was imprisoned in August 2016.

Iran’s state news agency IRNA said Mr. Soleimani had been “freed moments ago after one year of illegal detention and was handed over to Iranian officials in Switzerland”. Mr. Soleimani, a professor and senior stem cell researcher at Tehran’s Tarbiat Modares University, was arrested on arrival at Chicago airport in October 2018 for allegedly attempting to ship growth hormones, according to Iranian media.

“Going home,” Mr. Zarif said in another tweet. The Twitter post featured photos of the Foreign Minister alongside Mr. Soleimani outside and inside a plane bearing an Iranian flag. It was unclear when the picture was taken.

Arrest of foreigners

Iran has over the years arrested several foreign nationals most often on accusations of spying. They include former U.S. soldier Michael R. White, British-Iranian mother Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, French academic Roland Marchal and Australian university lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert. Two other Australians, travel bloggers Jolie King and Mark Firkin, were released in October by Iran, in another apparent prisoner swap for Iranian student Reza Dehbashi, who had been wanted in the United States. In September, an Iranian woman sentenced in the United States for violating Washington’s sanctions against Tehran was released and returned home.

Negar Ghodskani was arrested in Australia in 2017 and later extradited to the United States, which said she confessed to participation in a conspiracy to illegally export technology to Iran in breach of sanctions.

Pregnant at the time of her arrest, she was sentenced to 27 months but released after already serving time in custody. An unknown number of Iranians are detained abroad.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 1:18:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/iran-us-swap-prisoners-amid-tensions/article30233148.ece

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