Iran releasing former U.S. Marine, Washington Post reporter, 2 others in prisoner swap

Former U.S. Marine Amir Mirza Hekmati (L), and Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian (R), who reportedly are being released from captivity in Iran in a prisoner swap with the U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian state television announced Saturday that the government had freed four dual-nationality prisoners, and a person close to Iran’s judiciary confirmed to The Associated Press that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was one of them.

The report did not identify the prisoners and the person in Iran was speaking on condition of anonymity since he was not authorized to publicly speak to the media. Rezaian is a dual Iran-U.S. citizen who was convicted of espionage in a closed-door trial in 2015.

Washington Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti told the AP that she could not confirm any change in Rezaian’s case.

A report by the semi-official ISNA news agency quoted a statement from the Tehran prosecutor’s office as saying the inmates were freed “within the framework of exchanging prisoners.” It did not elaborate.

U.S. officials would not immediately confirm the announcement, but they had indicated a prisoner deal would be separate from Saturday’s expected “implementation” of the landmark nuclear agreement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in Vienna to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, spoke cryptically of a possible negotiation.

The family of one of the U.S prisoners received unofficial word from Iran that their relative was being released Saturday, according to a person close to that family who spoke on condition the family not be identified.

Iran was seeking a number of detained Iranians in exchange for the Americans.

Iran was known to be holding four Americans. It was unclear who was being released, but the four were:

—Rezaian, who was born in California and holds both U.S. and Iranian citizenship. He was convicted in closed proceedings last year after being charged with espionage and related allegations. The length of his sentence has not been disclosed publicly. The Post and the U.S. government have denied the accusations, as has Rezaian. He was originally detained with his wife in July 2014. She was released on bail in October 2014. Rezaian was the Post’s Tehran correspondent and was accredited to work in the country by the Iranian government.

—Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan. He was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. His family says he has lost significant weight and has trouble breathing, raising fears he could contact tuberculosis. Hekmati went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother. After his arrest, his family says they were told to keep matter quiet. He was sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years.

—Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho. He was detained for compromising national security, presumably because of Christian proselytizing, in September 2012. He was sentenced in 2013 to 8 years in prison. Obama met his wife and children in 2015. There are claims he was beaten in Iranian prison. Abedini was previously arrested in 2009 and released after promising to stop organizing churches in homes. At time of arrest, was running an orphanage in Iran.

—Siamak Namazi, a businessman and the son of a politician from the shah’s era.

Separately, Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission. American officials are unsure if the former FBI agent is even still alive. Iranian officials deny knowing where he is. Levinson traveled to Kish island and checked into hotel, purportedly investigating cigarette smuggling. He met U.S. fugitive Dawud Salahuddin, the last man known to see him. The CIA family paid Levinson’s family over $2 million and some staffers lost their jobs over his unauthorized work. A proof of life video surfaced in 2011, saying he was held by a group. His family received photos that year, too, of Levinson bearded, shackled, wearing orange jumpsuit and holding signs in broken English. He has seven children. He suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Obama administration says the Americans come up in every conversation with the Iranians.

Associated Press Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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