Michael White: US Navy veteran detained in Iran for two years en route home

'I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home'

Justin Vallejo
New York
Thursday 04 June 2020 16:37 BST
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A Navy veteran detained in Iran for nearly two years has been released and is on his way home aboard a Swiss government aircraft, US officials said Thursday.

The US special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, flew to Zurich with a doctor to meet freed detainee Michael White and will accompany Mr White back to the United States, the officials said.

An Iranian scientist held in the US over a federal trade secrets case was released and deported earlier this week, which was seen by some observers as the start of a prisoner exchange between the two countries.

Mr White was serving a 13-year sentence after being arrested in the Iran city of Mashad in 2018.

The US Navy veteran's mother, Joanne White, confirmed in a statement that her son had been freed after 683 days "held hostage" by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran.

"I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely on his way home," Ms White said.

"I am incredibly grateful to the Administration, especially the team at the State Department for their work on Michael's case and I owe the Swiss diplomats who worked so hard to keep Michael safe a debt I can never repay."

Donald Trump said Mr White had just left Iranian airspace on a Swiss plane and would be back in the US with family soon.

While there was widespread speculation over the prisoner exchange following the deportation of Iranian scientist Sirios Asghari, officials told the Associated Press that Mr White's release was predicated on a different prisoner deal which was expected to be announced later on Thursday.

A State Department spokesperson said this week that Ms Asgari has never been a part of a prisoner swap and the US has dried to deport him since December, while the process was held up by the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Mr White, who was detained in July 2018 visiting a woman he met online, was convicted of insulting Iran's supreme leader and posting information online.

While the State Department has not yet officially commented on the release, a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on 19 March said Mr White was released on medical furlough for humanitarian grounds under the condition of him staying in Iran.

He was placed in the custody of the Swiss embassy to undergo medical testing and evaluation after being admitted to hospital with Covid-19-related symptoms.

At the time of his release, Mr White remained out on medical furlough.

Ms White thanked former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for delivering her personal pleas for her son's freedom to Iranian officials.

"We understand there is great interest in Michael's story. In time, Michael will tell it himself, his way," Ms White said.

Mr White's release came after the US threatened in March that their "response will be decisive" if Iran did not release Americans being wrongfully detained and died of coronavirus.

"Reports that Covid-19 has spread to Iranian prisons are deeply troubling and demand nothing less than the full and immediate release of all American citizens," Mr Pompeo said.

He also called for the release of Morad Tahbaz, Baquer Namazi and Siamak Namazi, saying their detention amid increasingly deteriorating coronavirus conditions "defies basic human decency".

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