Zakka had obtained permanent residency in the United States when he received an invitation from a government official to go to Iran and attend a conference in Tehran in September of 2015.
Upon arrival, he disappeared. His lawyer stated that the last place he had been seen was at leaving his hotel in Tehran to go to the airport back to Beirut, but he never boarded his flight.
According to State media, he had been captured and detained by the Revolutionary Guard due to suspected espionage for the U.S. military and intelligence sectors. The statement by the Iranian news accused him of having “deep links” with these U.S. agencies.
That unproven suspicion is due to Zakka having attended and graduated from the Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia (USA). He was subsequently sentenced to serve 10 years in prison and pay a fine of $4.2 million under charges of espionage in 2016.
On Tuesday, Iran’s Mizan News Agency reported a statement by Iran’s judiciary spokesperson Gholam Hussein Esmaeili that Zakka’s release was congruent with the Iranian constitution, which states that offenders must serve at least a third of their sentence and have good behavior to be eligible for a conditional release.
Upon Zakka’s arrival in Beirut, he immediately went to Baabda Palace to meet President Michel Aoun, and express his gratitude for his country’s relentless efforts to bring him back home.
“The campaign for my release started in Lebanon, developed in Lebanon, and ended in Lebanon,” he said to reporters. However, he declined to go into any detail about his “kidnapping, detention, and false accusations.”
The U.S. State Department also celebrated his release, maintaining that he was being unfairly detained and that the US had advocated for his release.
“It is without a doubt a great day for Mr. Zakka, his family, and all those who have supported him during his unlawful imprisonment,” a State Department spokeswoman said.
Although conditions of his release have not been specified, Esmaeili stated that Hezbollah’s request to expedite his release was a key factor.
Other organizations have supported Zakka’s release, including the Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Iran Researcher Tara Sepehri Far stated that Zakka’s arrest had been part of a number of detentions of foreign nationals with dual citizenships who were “politically motivated.”
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