• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Three US prisoners freed by Iran land in Geneva
Falcon 900 of the Swiss Air Force lands at Geneva airport on Sunday with released US prisoners. Photo: Richard Juilliart/AFP

Three US prisoners freed by Iran land in Geneva

AFP/The Local · 17 Jan 2016, 20:36

Published: 17 Jan 2016 20:36 GMT+01:00

Among those on board was The Washington Post's Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian, who had been detained in Iran for nearly 18 months.

"Overwhelmed to greet Jason #Rezaian, his wife, Yegi, mother, Mary + Saeed #Abedini + Amir #Hekmati to #Geneva after safely departing #Iran," senior US diplomat Brett McGurk wrote on Twitter.

An AFP reporter at Geneva airport saw a Swiss air force plane touch down at around 6pm, on the same tarmac where a large, official US aircraft was stationed.

The Swiss department of foreign affairs earlier said that after landing in Switzerland, the freed prisoners, all of whom have dual US-Iranian citizenship, later left for an American base in Germany.

Neither US nor Swiss officials had explicitly named those on board the Swiss-bound plane, but McGurk's tweet confirmed reports that the three freed prisoners were Rezaian, Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor, and former US Marine Amir Hekmati.

Iran had announced their release on Saturday, just hours before Tehran's historic nuclear deal with world powers was implemented, in exchange for Washington pardoning seven Iranians accused of sanctions-busting or violating
trade embargoes.

"When Americans are freed, that's something we can all celebrate," US President Barak Obama said in a televised statement from the White House.

But he also sounded a note of caution, adding that the US would continue to have problems with the Iranian government's "destabilizing activities" in the region, including its support for militant groups.

 'Fourth prisoner in Tehran'

The Swiss foreign affairs department said the prisoner swap followed 14 months of confidential discussions in Switzerland.

The fourth Iranian-American released as part of the swap, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, has not yet left Tehran, senior US officials said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, officials said Khosravi-Roodsari — about whom little is known — elected not to board the plane for Switzerland.

"Those who wished to depart Iran have left," said one official.

Another said "it's his free determination where he wants to go."

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was released in a separate process, a US official has said.

The Post had earlier reported that the flight out of Iran was delayed because Rezaian's mother Mary and wife Yeganeh, who also were on the plane, initially did not appear on the flight manifest.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters travelling with him from Vienna to Washington that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif resolved the problem.

"Zarif had no question about it," Kerry was quoted as saying.

"It was part of the agreement, it was clearly stated," he said.

"The problem was, one of the guys on the ground, at a military base, didn't have it on the manifest."

 'Nightmare over'

Story continues below…

Iranian state television said the seven Iranians — Nader Modanlou, Baharam Mechanic, Khosrow Afghahi, Arash Ghahreman, Tooraj Faridi, Nima Golestaneh, and Ali Saboonchi — "will be freed today".

The family of former US Marine Hekmati, who faced a death sentence as an alleged spy, welcomed the news that he had left Iran.

"It is hard to put into words what our family feels right now.

"But we remain in hopeful anticipation until Amir is in our arms."

Washington Post publisher Frederick Ryan said in a statement: "We are relieved that this 545-day nightmare for Jason and his family is finally over."

The 39-year-old Rezaian, a dual US-Iranian citizen born in California, was detained in Iran on July 22nd 2014.

The Post statement thanked those "around the world who have spoken out on Jason's behalf and against the harsh confinement that was so wrongly imposed upon him."

Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Gholam Ali Khoshroo, said on Saturday that Switzerland played a "positive role" in the prisoner swap.

The UN nuclear watchdog announced late Saturday that Iran had complied with its side of the July 2015 accord, allowing the lifting of sanctions.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
London Olympic athletes fail new doping tests
IOC president Thomas Bach announced the news. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/ADP

The Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee reports 23 new doping failures from 2012 Games.

Swiss supermarkets look to scrap free plastic bags
Coop is among the supermarkets considering the idea. Photo: Coop

Voluntary agreement may be the solution after a commission quashes idea of outright ban.

Head-on crash leaves Swiss motorcyclist dead
The accident happened on the way to Les Mosses. File photo: Falk Lademann

A motorcyclist died in a head-on crash with a car on a mountain road in Vaud.

Bern renews funding for controversial arts centre
Bern town hall. File photo: Dennie Jarvis

The Reitschule has been granted a reprieve after authorities in the city agreed a 1.5 million franc grant to keep it going until 2019.

Neighbours’ day: Swiss cities join growing European party
Around 40 towns in Switzerland will celebrate Neighbours' Day. Photo: Tag der Nachbarn

St Gallen becomes the latest Swiss town to take part in European Neighbours’ Day.

Swiss boffins create cannabis e-cigarette
File photo: Marcel van Hoorn/AFP

"Cannavaping" for medical use is safer than a joint and better than a pill, say Lausanne scientists.

Swiss cantons team up to vie for winter Olympic games
The resort of Verbier in the canton of Valais. File photo: The Local

Valais and Vaud launch joint candidacy for the 2026 winter Olympics.

Ticino beaches praised in European report
Bathing spots on Lake Lugano were among those rather excellent. Photo: Roland Gerth/Swiss-image.ch

More than 100 Swiss beaches have been rated as excellent for water quality in a European report.

Gotthard base tunnel: what you need to know
The new rail tunnel is the longest and deepest in the world. Photo: Alp Transit Gotthard

The longest tunnel in the world will be inaugurated in Switzerland amid great fanfare on June 1st. The Local takes you through it.

Bern pulls plug on lakes after heavy rain forecast
Lake Biel/Bienne is one of the three affected lakes. Photo: Biel/Bienne/Seeland tourism/Swiss-image.ch

Authorities are reducing the water level of three Swiss lakes this week so they can cope with heavy rain to come.

Photo: Swiss Tourism
Features
10 unspoken rules for fitting in with the Swiss
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Photo: Alp Transit Gotthard
National
Gotthard base tunnel: what you need to know
Photo: Caroline Bishop
Sport
Swiss cantons team up to vie for winter Olympic games
Sponsored Article
Becoming an expat: where to start
Photo: Broad Bean Media
National
Basel: Muslim schoolboys must shake hands or face fine
Photo: Emmanual Dunand/AFP
Sport
Brother of Belgian bomber wins gold in Switzerland
Photo: Gstaad Tourism
National
Snow puts end to hottest weekend of year so far
File photo: Abhishek Jacob
Lifestyle
Swiss court vetoes wedding of couple with 50-year age gap
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Culture
Dog day afternoon: Swiss saint meets Pope in Rome
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Business & Money
Pink diamond sold for record-breaking $31m in Geneva
File photo: Candida Performa
Lifestyle
Revealed: living in Switzerland could prolong your life
Photo: Cervo
Travel
In pictures: Switzerland’s most welcoming hotels
Photo: Aargau cantonal government
‘Beast of Rupperswil’ was local football coach
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Features
Geneva exhibition marks 200 years of Frankenstein
Photo AFP
National
Swiss basic income campaign sets Guinness world record
Photo: St Gallen police
Society
Police hunt killer of man shot dead in St Gallen street
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Society
Presumed jihadist could have Swiss nationality quashed
Photo: Zurich Zoo
Culture
Gallery: giant tortoise at Zurich Zoo is mother at 80
Photo: Caroline Bishop
Society
Swiss farmer loses appeal in row over noisy cow bells
Photo: Esparta Palmer
Health
44-year-old woman refused fertility treatment on insurance
File photo: Thomas Coex/AFP
Society
Jilted admirer shocks woman with tattoo... of her face
File photo: Flickr
Health
Swiss school eyes longer holidays for non-smoking staff
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
National
Swiss basic income vote: what you need to know
 Photo: Heinrich Plum
National
Lidl uses German mountain to promote its Swiss products
4,618
jobs available