On September 18, Iran released five Americans as part of a prisoner swap with the United States. The four men and one woman had been imprisoned on unproven charges of espionage. One had been held since 2015. In return, the Biden administration released five Iranian men imprisoned in the United States, including two who had been held since 2019. The United States also issued a waiver so South Korea could transfer $6 billion of frozen Iranian oil revenues to Qatar, which will oversee limited Iranian purchases of humanitarian goods, including medical, education and agricultural goods.
Four of the Iranians had allegedly violated U.S. sanctions, and another had acted as an unregistered foreign agent of the Islamic Republic. Only two of the Iranians were going to return to Iran. “One of them, as he has family in another country, will be moved to join them in that third country, and apparently two of our citizens imprisoned in the U.S. have said they wish to remain there due to their history of staying there,” foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani said. The following are profiles of the prisoners involved in the exchange.
U.S. Citizens Released by Iran
- Siamak Namazi: In October 2015, the Dubai-based businessman was arrested during a trip to Iran. In October 2016, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for collaborating with an enemy state. Namazi had primarily worked for consultancies focused on energy before his detention. In 2005, he was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He also did a stint at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2006. Baquer Namazi, Siamak’s father, traveled to Iran to secure his son’s release but was also sentenced to 10 years for espionage in 2016. In October 2022, Iran released the elder Namazi so that he could seek medical treatment abroad.
- Emad Shargi: In April 2018, the businessman was detained while working for a venture capital fund involved in technology. After being interrogated and held in solitary confinement, he was released on bail in December 2018. A year later, he was cleared of all spying and national security charges. But his passport was withheld, and he was not permitted to leave Iran. In November 2020, Shargi was summoned to court and convicted of espionage without a trial. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
- Morad Tahbaz: In January 2018, Tahbaz and eight other environmental activists were detained. In November 2019, Tahbaz was sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage. Tahbaz and his colleagues had been using cameras to track endangered Asiatic cheetahs and were accused of using that work as a cover for collecting “classified information.”
- An unnamed businessman
- An unnamed female former U.N. worker
Iranian Citizens Released by the United States
- Mehrdad Moein Ansari: In 2019, the Iranian citizen and resident of the United Arab Emirates and Germany was arrested for plotting to secure dual-use materials with potential military and nuclear applications for the Islamic Republic. In September 2021, he was sentenced to more than five years in prison.
- Kambiz Attar Kashani: In January 2022, the U.S.-Iranian citizen was arrested for conspiring to export goods and technology to the Central Bank of Iran. He had used two front companies based in the United Arab Emirates to procure equipment and software for Iran. In February 2023, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
- Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani: The Iranian and resident of Canada was arrested for sending laboratory materials to the Islamic Republic. He had shipped the equipment—controlled for nuclear nonproliferation purposes—to Iran through Canada and the United Arab Emirates. He was indicted in July 2021 with 10 crimes, some of which carried maximum prison sentences of 20 years.
- Amin Hasanzadeh: In November 2019, the Iranian and permanent U.S. resident was arrested on charges of fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property. Federal prosecutors accused Hasanzadeh of stealing sensitive technical data from his employer and sending it to his brother, who is connected to the Iranian military. He was indicted in December 2020.
- Kaveh Afrasiabi: In January 2021, the U.S.-based Iranian was arrested for failing to report his status as a foreign agent in the United States. He had lobbied the State Department and a congressman for “policies favorable to Iran” while on the payroll of Iran’s U.N. mission since around 2007. His alleged crimes carried a maximum of 10 years in prison.