Nizar Zakka: Iran frees detained Lebanese businessman

Mideast Iran Lebanese Detained

A Lebanese businessman detained in Iran since 2015 for alleged anti-state activity left the country on Tuesday, a Lebanese official said, after Beirut secured his release.

Iran holds a number of dual nationals, including Iranian Americans, as well as Chinese-born US citizen and Princeton scholar, Xiyue Wang.

The move to free Zakka, 52, follows a months-long effort by Lebanese officials to negotiate his release. There was no immediate comment from US authorities on his release.

Nizar Zakka, an information technology specialist who holds US residency, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $4.2 million in 2016. But U.S. -Iranian tensions have risen since Washington pulled out of the nuclear pact in 2018.

Zakka met with Aoun after landing in Beirut in the afternoon with security chief Abbas Ibrahim.

General Security confirmed Zakka's imminent return and said he was set to meet Lebanese President Michel Aoun at Baabda Palace.

The statement claimed that Zakka, who graduated from the Riverside Military Academy of Gainesville in Georgia, had "deep links" with U.S. military and intelligence agencies.

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

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Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015. His potential release comes as tensions between Iran and the US remain high in the wake of President Trump withdrawing America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

He was held in Evin Prison, notorious for holding political prisoners, dual-nationals and academics.

The potential release of Zakka, an internet freedom advocate, comes as tensions between Iran and the U.S. remain high.

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.

"Some local media has speculated that Zakka's release would also involve the freeing of another Lebanese citizen in the United States".

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.

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.

In 2016, he was sentenced to ten years in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $4.2m for espionage.

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