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June 12, 2019

Iran frees Lebanese national convicted of spying for US


June 12, 2019

BEIRUT: Iran on Tuesday freed a Lebanese national arrested in 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in jail on charges of spying for Washington, Lebanon’s security services said on Tuesday.

"General Security chief Abbas Ibrahim en route from Tehran to Lebanon, accompanied by Nizar Zakka, after his release by Iranian authorities," the security service said in a statement posted on social media.

It also posted a picture of Ibrahim and Zakka aboard what appeared to be a private aircraft. Both are due to meet President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace near Beirut shortly after arrival, the statement said.

The news comes hours after Iran’s judiciary said it had approved Zakka’s release. "The relevant court has agreed to Nizar Zakka’s conditional release and he will be handed over to Lebanese authorities," its Mizan Online website quoted spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili as saying.

"According to the law, those who are sentenced to up to 10 years in jail, if they have served at least one third of their sentence and shown good behaviour" can be released conditionally. According to Esmaili, Aoun had requested Zakka’s release "in writing" and Iran’s Lebanese ally Hizbullah had said it would be "expedient".

"This is an absolutely judicial procedure and no political issue has been involved," Esmaili was quoted by Iran’s Tasnim news agency as saying. A resident of the United States in his 50s, Zakka was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July.

At the time of his arrest, Iranian state television said he was accused of "deep ties to the military and intelligence services of the United States". It broadcast photographs of a man in military uniform it said was of Zakka at a US base. At the end of 2017, Iranian appeal courts upheld his 10-year jail sentence as well as those of an American and two Iranian-Americans accused of "collaboration" with the United States.

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