US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Iran on Saturday to release an American citizen he said has been held for years as a “political pawn.”
Emad Sharghi was sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges, Iranian media reported in January 2021, saying he was detained trying to flee the country.
“For four years, the Sharghi family has waited anxiously for the Iranian government to release Emad. Like too many other families, their loved one has been treated as a political pawn. We call on Iran to stop this inhumane practice and release Emad,” Blinken tweeted.
Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, also called on Iran on Saturday to release Sharghi, stressing that he was arrested exactly four years ago.
“He was cleared of all charges, but then convicted in absentia, rearrested, and has now spent over 500 days in Evin Prison,” Malley wrote on Twitter.
“Emad, the Namazis, and Morad Tahbaz must all be allowed to come home now.”
Republican Senator Marco Rubio also called on Friday for Sharghi to be “immediately released and safely reunited with his family.”
In January 2021, Iranian media reported his arrest, describing him as the deputy head for international affairs at an Iranian venture capital company called Sarava.
The website of the Young Journalists Club news agency said Sharghi had been caught “trying to illegally flee the country from the western border.”
Sharghi had been sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of espionage and gathering military information and was out on bail ahead of an appeal when he tried to hide, the agency added.
Washington’s call to release the dual national comes in light of mounting risks threatening diplomatic efforts to restore the nuclear deal with Iran.
In 2015, Washington and five other world powers (France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China) inked a landmark agreement with Tehran to rein in Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
Under the presidency of Donald Trump, the United States quit the deal in 2018 and reinstated economic sanctions against Tehran, which in response shrugged off restrictions imposed on its nuclear efforts.
Months of negotiations in the Austrian capital Vienna aim to return Washington to the deal, including through the lifting of sanctions, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments.
Negotiators say they are close to a conclusion, but have yet to finalize all points.