A senior Iranian judiciary official called on the United States to free Iranian individuals held in American jails, mostly over bypassing US sanctions levied against the Islamic Republic.
"The US has arrested tens of innocent Iranians under the pretext of circumventing its cruel and inhumane sanctions," tweeted Deputy Judiciary Chief for International Affairs Kazem Gharibabadi.
Gharibabadi noted that those prisoners "must be freed - effective immediately." He particularly underlined the case of Reza Sarhangpour Kafrani, who was charged in the District of Columbia last July over exporting to Iran laboratory equipment that might be of use in developing nuclear arms.
According to Gharibabadi, Kafrani — an Iranian national with Canadian residency — is being "held under dire humanitarian conditions." He also claimed that Kafrani has been forced to pay the rent for the apartment he is kept in and has been denied access to emergency medical care, a policy which he slammed as "barbaric."
The United States has not officially released a full list of Iranians in its prisons. But a 2021 Voice of America count has put the number of those charged with "federal crimes" at 13. The Islamic Republic, on the other hand, is currently holding at least three Iranian-Americans over security and espionage-related charges.
With the two sides repeatedly detaining one another's nationals over the past four decades, the issue of prisoner swaps has resurfaced every now and then, particularly on the sidelines of negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
As recently as Aug. 17, the spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Nasser Kanani, told reporters at a weekly briefing that Iran is ready to enter a prisoner exchange deal with the United States. "The Islamic Republic has through various channels conveyed to the American side its willingness to discuss the issue of prisoners," he declared, noting that such requests have been put forward outside JCPOA talks.
Indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington have been mediated by the European Union in the past 16 months to resurrect the JCPOA, from which the previous US administration pulled out in 2018. Earlier this week, Iran responded to an EU proposal that Washington, for its part, is currently reviewing for possible finalization. Details of the potential agreement remain unclear. But there is speculation that a prisoner swap could be separately closed.
In his press conference, Kanani was addressing a tweet by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in which he raised the ordeal of Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi on the 2,500th day of his imprisonment in Iran. "We are determined to secure his freedom and ensure all Americans who have been wrongfully detained by Iran," Blinken wrote.