Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who has been detained in Iran since July 2014, is being released as part of a prisoner swap deal, according to an Iranian news agency report on Saturday.
Three other prisoners are also being released, the semi-official FARS news agency said, citing Tehran’s prosecutor.
Rezaian’s brother Ali said he had no immediate confirmation of the news.
The Washington Post said it did not know if the reports are accurate.
“While we are hopeful, we have not received any official word of Jason’s release,” a spokeswoman said.
Rezaian has spent the past 18 months behind bars on charges of espionage that have been roundly denied by his colleagues and family members.
Analysts said Rezaian was treated like a pawn amid internal political battles in Iran and tense nuclear negotiations between Iran, the United States and other world powers.
His so-called trial started last May and ended in August. In September, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, raised the prospect of a prisoner swap.
“If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free,” Rouhani said, referring to Iranians who are being held in the U.S., “certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well.”
In October, Rezaian was convicted by a Revolutionary Court in Iran. He was reportedly facing up to 20 years in prison. Post editor Marty Baron called the conviction an “outrageous injustice.”
As time dragged on, some American politicians called Rezaian a “hostage.” Doug Jehl, the Post’s foreign editor, said last fall that it seemed like “Jason is not really a prisoner, he’s a bargaining chip being used by the Iranian government to extract some concessions from the U.S.”
Trial has been cloaked in secrecy
Journalists around the world repeatedly protested his detention and called for his release. Earlier this month, the leaders of media advocacy groups and 25 news agencies, including CNN, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the U.S. government to do more to secure Rezaian’s release.
“Independent journalism is recognized as a fundamental human right. Iran should recognize this, too, and free Jason,” the editors wrote.
Government officials have pressed Rezaian’s case during negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program.
John Kirby, a State Department spokesman, said earlier this month: “As we have said repeatedly, we believe that our citizens should be returned to the United States to be with their families as soon as they possibly can. As Secretary Kerry has noted many times, we are working very hard to get our citizens back home, and we call again on Iran to release them.”
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