BEIRUT: US permanent resident and Lebanese businessman who was imprisoned for years in Iran has been freed and is on his way back to his native Lebanon, an official in Beirut said.
Nizar Zakka, held in Iran since 2015, was on a plane accompanied by the chief of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, Gen. Ibrahim Abbas, heading to the Lebanese capital, according to the official. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in Iran. His release comes as tensions between Iran and the US remain high after President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Earlier Tuesday, an Iranian judiciary official confirmed that Tehran has agreed to hand over Zakka to Lebanese officials, providing the first official confirmation of his release, which had been anticipated for days.
“A court has accepted the condition of freedom of Nizar Zakka and he will be handed over to Lebanese officials,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said, according to the judiciary’s Mizan news agency. A report Monday on the Iranian state TV’s website mirrored an earlier one carried by the semi-official Fars news agency about Zakka, an internet freedom advocate who was arrested in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference there on the invitation of one of the country’s vice presidents.
The state TV, like Fars, both quoted an anonymous source saying Zakka’s forthcoming release should only be seen as a “sign of respect” for the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
“In this regard, no negotiations have taken place at any level with any person or any government,” state TV said. Esmaili stressed that Zakka’s release was within “the frame of the law.” “We reviewed the (Lebanese) president’s request through the Supreme National Security Council,” Esmaili said. “Also, the Lebanese Hezbollah group considered the approval of his freedom as prudent.” State TV later quoted an anonymous source as saying Zakka would be released on Tuesday afternoon and will be allowed to leave Tehran. In 2016, Iran sentenced Zakka to 10 years in prison. Authorities accused him of being an American spy, allegations vigorously rejected by his family and associates.