|Date: Jun 10, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Zakka set to be freed and returned to Beirut|
|Joseph Haboush| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT: Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese national who has been imprisoned in Iran since 2015, is set to be released and then return to Beirut Monday, a source familiar with the case told The Daily Star.
“The Iranian authorities and the authorities at Evin Prison [where Zakka has been held] have begun the procedures to secure Zakka’s release,” the source said.
General Security head Abbas Ibrahim traveled to Tehran Sunday to facilitate Zakka’s release.
Zakka, who has permanent residency in the United States, received an invitation to Iran from a government official in 2015 to attend a conference in Tehran, but then disappeared. State media reported later in the year that he had been detained by the country’s Revolutionary Guard, suspected of having ties to U.S. military and intelligence services.
His family have been pleading for his release for years, accusing Lebanese politicians of failing to do enough to secure the release of a Lebanese citizen.
Finally, last week, Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry announced that Iran had agreed to free Zakka, after President Michel Aoun and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil requested that he be freed as a gesture of goodwill for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
However, Zakka’s name was not on a list of the names of 691 prisoners whose sentences Ayatollah Ali Khamenei commuted or deferred as a gesture for the Eid al-Fir holiday, according to Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili.
Instead, Esmaili said “we have received a request filed by the accused [Zakka] and other Lebanese officials to grant amnesty and release him. We are looking into this request as a special case.”
“The individual was sentenced, and the president of Lebanon had - in letters to judicial officials - requested a conditional pardon,” he added.
“This request has been in the judicial process and, in case any decision is taken by the judicial apparatus, information will be provided.”
The source close to the situation also said that despite reports, Zakka’s imminent release was not a result of U.S.-Iranian negotiations.
“Nizar’s release [will be] the result of a Lebanese initiative solely. It has nothing to do with foreign countries, and it is not an Iranian-American deal,” the source said.
Zakka’s release will cut down a 10-year prison sentence handed down to him in September 2016 after a security court convicted him of espionage.
He was also assessed a $4.2 million fine. In 2017 Iranian state media reported that he had lost an appeal of the verdict in his case.
Zakka is one of a number of Lebanese citizens being held in foreign prisons.
George Abdullah was arrested in Lyon, France, in October 1984 and convicted three years later to life in prison for his alleged involvement in the killing of an Israeli diplomat and an American military attache in Paris in 1982.
Kassim Tajideen, who ran a multibillion-dollar global business empire that traded commodities in the Middle East and Africa, was arrested in Morocco on March 12, 2017, on an international arrest warrant. He was then extradited to the U.S. for allegedly funding Hezbollah, a charge he denies. - With agencies