Americans freed from Iran finally returns home

Five Americans who were wrongly held in Iran for an extended period have returned to U.S. territory. They arrived on a plane along with two of their relatives early Tuesday, having traveled from Qatar, which played a role in facilitating their transfer.

Their release was part of a prisoner exchange agreement, enabling Tehran to access $6 billion in previously frozen oil revenues due to U.S. sanctions. Simultaneously, five Iranian nationals were released from U.S. custody.

This significant deal transpired despite escalating tensions between the two nations, spanning issues such as Iran’s uranium enrichment program and its suppression of internal dissent. The recent weekend marked a year since Mahsa Amini’s death, which triggered a surge of domestic unrest.

NBC News initially reported on the negotiations for this prisoner swap back in February.

Among the released Americans, Siamak Namazi, 51, spent nearly eight years in prison, the lengthiest period among the five. He was apprehended in 2015 on charges of espionage and swiftly convicted in a brief trial.

Emad Shargi, 59, an Iranian-born entrepreneur who moved to the U.S. as a young adult, was detained in 2018. Although he was released and fully exonerated in 2019, Iranian authorities withheld his passport. Subsequently, he was recharged in 2020 and convicted of espionage without undergoing a trial.

Morad Tahbaz, 67, a dual Iranian-American and British citizen, was also part of the group of environmentalists researching Iran’s endangered cheetah population. He was arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage in 2019.

The identities of the other two released prisoners’ families have been kept confidential at their request, according to U.S. officials.

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Human rights organizations assert that Iran baselessly accused these prisoners of espionage, while Iran contends that they were treated in accordance with the law.

This development coincides with President Joe Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where leaders from around the world convene.

Biden has faced criticism from Republicans who argue that this agreement amounts to a “ransom” payment, potentially incentivizing Tehran to detain more foreign nationals. The administration asserts that Iran is only permitted to use the unblocked funds for essential purposes like medicine, food, or humanitarian purchases.

However, Raisi informed NBC News’ Lester Holt in an exclusive interview that Tehran will determine how to allocate the $6 billion, stating that the funds will be used “wherever we need it.”

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