Lebanese detainee to be released from Iran as gift from Hezbollah to Aoun
A Lebanese detainee, who has been held in prison in Iran since 2015, is set to be released on Tuesday. He will arrive in Beirut accompanied by General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim.
Iran’s Fars news agency quoted an informed source in Tehran as saying that authorities approved Nizar Zakka’s release at the request and mediation of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.
The agency denied that negotiations were held with “any person or government.”
The Fars report contradicts statements by Lebanon’s presidency and Foreign Ministry, which said the release was based on President General Michel Aoun’s plea to his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani and also on Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil’s letter to his Iranian counterpart regarding pardoning Zakka on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr holiday.
Iran will hand over Zakka to the Hezbollah party, added the agency.
“The move would take place in the next few hours. This is done solely out of respect for Hassan Nasrallah,” it said.
A similar report was published by an Iranian newspaper, which said Nasrallah played an important role in convincing Iranian officials to release the detainee.
Zakka’s attorney Majed Dimishkieh refused on Monday to comment on the Fars report.
Informed sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Tehran would have rejected Beirut’s request to release Zakka had Nasrallah not intervened.
“The release came following Nasrallah’s request as a gift to President Aoun,” the sources said.
In return, presidential sources confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that Aoun exerted efforts in the case, adding that a meeting between Zakka and Ibrahim last month in Tehran took place through the president’s efforts.
Zakka, a US permanent resident, is an advocate for Internet freedom and has done some work for the US government. He has been imprisoned in Iran since his arrest in September 2015 while attending a state-sponsored conference.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison in September 2016 and faced a $4.2 million fine when a security court convicted him of “espionage for an enemy state”.