Iran frees Lebanese IT specialist Zakka

Cheryl Sanders
June 11, 2019

Iranian media has described him as a USA spy.

This March 2013 handout image provided by the Friends of Nizar Zakka, shows Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese technology expert and advocate for Internet freedom, delivering a speech during the MENA ICT Forum conference in Jordan.

"A court has accepted the condition of freedom of Nizar Zakka and he will be handed over to Lebanese officials", Esmaili said, according to the judiciary's Mizan news agency. Gen. Ibrahim Abbas, who traveled to Tehran to bring him home.

Shahindokht Molaverdi, an adviser to President Hassan Rouhani who as a vice president invited Zakka to Iran, told the AP in September that Iran's government had "failed" to help Zakka.

A Lebanese businessman with permanent U.S. residency who was imprisoned in Iran for several years for alleged anti-state activity was released Tuesday, his lawyer said. Relations have deteriorated sharply since US President Donald Trump took office in January 2017.

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.

"We reviewed the (Lebanese) president's request through the Supreme National Security Council" Esmaili said.

She says "The big question is there's several others and we want to see those people released as well".

Zakka is set to return to Beirut on Tuesday, alongside Lebanon's General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim, who accompanied the ex-prisoner on a government jet.

She is declining to say whether the US government was involved in securing Zakka's release.

Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, is one of a series of prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in Iran.

The potential release of Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, comes as tensions between Iran and the United States remain high. Both the Congress and the Senate passed resolutions in 2017 calling for the unconditional release of USA citizens and residents detained in Iran, including the Lebanese national.

The comment on Tuesday from Gholamhossein Esmaili is the first official confirmation that Nizar Zakka would be sent back to Lebanon, years after his internationally criticized spying conviction.

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. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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