Nizar Zakka a Lebanese citizen and permanent U.S. resident who was released in Tehran after nearly four years in jail on charges of spying, cries during an interview with The Associated Press at a hotel in Dbayeh, north of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. Zakka, an information technology expert, who was detained in Iran in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran called on President Donald Trump to “get back your hostages” from Iran. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after authorities accused him of being an American spy – allegations vigorously rejected by Zakka, his family and associates. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
© The Associated Press
BEIRUT — A Lebanese man and permanent U.S. resident who was released after spending years in an Iranian prison called on President Donald Trump and Western countries to “please get back your hostages from Iran,” adding that he saw American detainees during his nearly four-year imprisonment.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Nizar Zakka said he was subjected to “all kinds of torture,” both physical and mental, during his detention in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, including standing on one leg for hours, extended periods of interrogation and lack of food.
“Nobody on earth deserves such suffering,” he said in the 30-minute emotional interview during which he broke down in tears at one point.
Zakka, an information technology expert, was arrested in Iran in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference there at the invitation of one of the country’s vice presidents. The following year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after authorities accused him of being an American spy — allegations he and his associates vigorously reject.
He was released Tuesday and flew back to his native Lebanon, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Last year, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, and re-impose heavy sanctions on Iran. The past weeks have witnessed a flurry of diplomatic activity to ease tensions and salvage the landmark deal.
Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. It was not clear why Iran decided to act now, after years of Lebanese officials asking for his release.
“In my opinion, it was a good timing for the Iranians, and especially they had a request from the President of the Lebanese Republic,” Zakka said. “They took this opportunity to send also a message … de-escalating tensions within the region.”
Zakka told the AP that during his detention he met several Westerners held in Iran, and for two years shared a cell with Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student sentenced to 10 years behind bars after being accused of “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad.
“I really ask President Trump to not leave Xiyue behind and other Americans behind, please,” he said.
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