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Iran releases US navy veteran after almost two years in custody

Freeing of Michael White comes two days after US released Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari
'I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home,' White's mom says (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Iran has released a US Navy veteran who had been detained since 2018, two days after American authorities allowed an Iranian scientist in detention to return to the Islamic Republic.

Michael R White's family announced on Thursday that he was freed after two years of imprisonment by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

"For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC and I have been living a nightmare. I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home," Joanne White, his mother, said in a statement.

White, who has cancer and had contracted the coronavirus while in detention, was arrested while visiting his girlfriend. In March 2019, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of insulting Iran's supreme leader and privacy violations.

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Earlier this year, he was released to the Swiss embassy in Tehran on humanitarian grounds on condition that he did not leave the country.

US President Donald Trump confirmed and welcomed White's release later on Thursday, thanking Switzerland for its assistance in the case.

"I will never stop working to secure the release of all Americans held hostage overseas," Trump wrote on Twitter.

On Tuesday, the US released Iranian scientist Sirous Asgari, who had remained in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for months after he was acquitted last November of charges of violating sanctions.

In March, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called for Asgari's release amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The "US has taken several Iranian scientists hostage - without charge or on spurious sanctions charges - & not releasing them; even when its OWN courts reject the absurd charges," Zarif wrote on Twitter at the time. 

It is not clear if the releases of White and Asgari are related, but officials in Washington and Tehran had left a door open for exchanging prisoners despite the growing hostility between the two countries.

In May, Zarif said Iran was ready to exchange prisoners with the US without pre-conditions.

Last December, Iran freed US citizen Xiyue Wang in exchange for the release of Iranian scientist Massoud Soleimani who had been convicted of violating sanctions in the US.