Iran frees US resident Nizar Zakka from prison, lawyer says

Saul Bowman
June 12, 2019

A Lebanese businessman with permanent USA residency who was imprisoned in Iran for several years for alleged anti-state activity was released Tuesday, his lawyer said.

The official says Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman, is on a plane with the chief of Lebanon's General Security Directorate Gen. Ibrahim Abbas and heading to the Lebanese capital.

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

Nizar Zakka, an information technology specialist who holds USA residency, was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $4.2 million in 2016.

Ibrahim was to escort Zakka to Lebanon Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported. Iranian media has described him as a USA spy.

Iran judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said the court agreed to hand Zakka over to Lebanese authorities.

Ibrahim said that, while Hezbollah had played a role in the release, "the base was the request from (President) Aoun".

Mr Zakka was arrested in September 2015 after being invited to speak at a conference hosted by the Iranian government.

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

Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in Iran.

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. 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. He was accused of being a spy and a year later sentenced to 10 years in prison and handed a $4.2 million fine.

Zakka's IJMA3 organization had received at least $730,000 in contracts and grants since 2009 from both the State Department and USAID, the lead American government agency fighting poverty and promoting democracy across the world.

Zakka has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015.

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