An 85-year-old Iranian American held by Iran over internationally criticised spying charges has left for Oman, officials said after pressure increased to free him as he struggles with poor health.
The state-run IRNA news agency published video of Baquer Namazi boarding a Royal Oman air force jet, apparently in Tehran. It said Namazi left the country on Wednesday.
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Jared Genser, a Washington-based lawyer representing the family, shared a photo of Namazi boarding the plane in a suit and tie.
“After a short layover, he will be leaving Oman and heading to Abu Dhabi,” Genser said. In the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Namazi will undergo a procedure to clear a blockage in a neck artery that had put him at high risk of a stroke.
The former UNICEF official, who had served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the United States-backed shah, was arrested in 2016. He had apparently travelled to Iran over fears about his son, who had been detained there in 2015.
Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served. However, they had effectively barred him from leaving until Saturday, which was when the United Nations said he would be allowed to leave for medical treatment.
Namazi’s release after more than six years of detention marks the first time an American has been freed by Iran since President Joe Biden took office. He was released even as talks over reviving Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers have stalled.
Namazi’s 50-year-old son, Siamak, remains in Iran. He is an advocate of closer ties between Iran and the West and was arrested while visiting Iran on a business trip.
Both father and son were sentenced to 10 years in prison on what the US and the United Nations say were trumped-up spying charges.
Siamak was released from Tehran’s Evin prison on Saturday on a one-week, renewable furlough after nearly seven years in detention.
The UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has criticised the cases against the two men, describing them in 2017 as part of “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals.”
“There is no evidence either Mr. S. Namazi or Mr. B. Namazi had a criminal record, including in relation to national security offenses,” the report said. “There is nothing to indicate that they have ever acted against the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Other US citizens detained in Iran include environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 67, who is also a British citizen, and businessman Emad Shargi, 58. A state department spokesperson said the US is working to bring those two men home along with Siamak Namazi.
Iran is currently grappling with the biggest show of opposition to its government since 2019. Dozens of people have been killed in unrest across the country ignited by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman from Iran’s Kurdistan province.