Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese IT expert jailed for espionage, says his release may have served to reduce tensions between US and Iran
A Lebanese man who had been imprisoned in Iran for years on charges of espionage said on Tuesday that he was subjected to kidnapping, arbitrary detention and a show trial, adding that his release served to de-escalate tensions between the US and Iran.
In his first comments after arriving in his native Lebanon, Nizar Zakka denied reports that his release was part of a wider deal but suggested that it had helped avert further escalation in the region.
Zakkas release comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after Donald Trump withdrew the US from Tehrans nuclear deal with world powers. It comes against the backdrop of high-stakes diplomatic activity aimed at easing tensions between the two foes.
The initiative, from beginning to end, was born in Lebanon … But I wont deny that this initiative had positive results on the region and appears to have stopped much of what might have happened, Zakka told reporters shortly after arriving in Lebanon.
Zakka, who has permanent residency in the US, is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the west held in Iran. Lebanese officials have for years asked for his release, and it was not clear why Iran decided to act now.
The US state department later released a statement welcoming Zakkas release from his unlawful imprisonment.
We hope that Mr Zakkas release is a positive sign for American detainees in Iran, it added, referring to several US citizens who remain in detention in Iran.
Flanked by his wife and siblings, Zakka flashed reporters the victory sign and hugged his brother Ziad before entering a meeting with Lebanons president, Michel Aoun.
Mr President, my family and I owe you for the rest of my life for what you did in order for me to win my freedom, Zakka said after the meeting. I went there [to Iran] upon an official invitation to a country where I was kidnapped.
Zakka, an information technology expert, was arrested in Iran in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference there at the invitation of one of the countrys vice-presidents. The following year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after authorities accused him of being an American spy allegations vigorously rejected by his family and associates.
Earlier on Tuesday, an Iranian judiciary official confirmed that Tehran had agreed to hand over Zakka to Lebanese officials.
State TV quoted an anonymous source saying Zakkas forthcoming release should only be seen as a sign of respect for the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
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