DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An 85-year-old Iranian-American held in Iran on internationally criticized espionage charges left the country Wednesday for Oman, officials said, after mounting pressure for his release amid his struggles with his poor health. His 50-year-old son, however, remains in Iran.
Baquer Namazi’s release marks the first American freed by Iran since President Joe Biden took office, even as talks on Tehran’s scrappy nuclear deal with world powers have stalled. Iran has long used imprisoned Westerners or those with ties abroad as bargaining chips in negotiations.
State news agency IRNA released video of Namazi boarding a Royal Oman Air Force aircraft, apparently in Tehran. It said Namazi left the country on Wednesday.
Jared Genser, a Washington-based attorney representing the Namazi family, shared a photo of Namazi on the plane in a suit and tie.
“After a short wait, he will leave Oman and head to Abu Dhabi,” Genser said.
In Abu Dhabi, Namazi will undergo a carotid endarterectomy at the local Cleveland Clinic branch to clear a severe blockage in his left internal carotid artery, Gensher said. This blockage put Namazi at high risk of stroke.
Tehran said late on Tuesday that Oman had thanked the Iranian government for Namazi’s “handover” to Muscat. Oman and the US did not immediately acknowledge the flight.
Namazi is a former UNICEF official who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the US-backed shah. Arrested in 2016, he is apparently drawn to Iran because of fears for his imprisoned son who was detained in 2015.
Namazi was placed under house arrest on medical grounds in 2018, but was unable to leave Iran despite pleas from his family to travel to undergo emergency heart surgery after multiple hospitalizations.
Last October, he underwent surgery in Iran to clear a blockage in a brain artery that his family and supporters described as life-threatening.
Security forces arrested his son, Shiamak Namazi, an advocate of closer ties between Iran and the West, while he was visiting Iran on a business trip.
Both Namazis were sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran on what the US and UN say were trumped-up espionage charges.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention dismissed the cases against the two men, saying in 2017 that their case was part of “an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals”.
“There is no evidence that either Mr S Namazi or Mr B Namazi had a criminal record, including in relation to national security offences,” their report said. “There is nothing to show that they have ever acted against the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”