Imperial Beach man imprisoned in Iran for months: report

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WASHINGTON — A U.S. Navy veteran from San Diego has been held in an Iranian prison on unspecified charges since July, his mother told The New York Times on Monday.

Michael R. White, 46, of Imperial Beach was detained in Iran while visiting his Iranian girlfriend, the mother, Joanne White, told The Times.

The mother filed a missing-person report after her son failed to return as planned in late July, and State Department officials told her three weeks ago that he was in an Iranian prison, she told The Times.

A duty officer reached at the US State Department early Tuesday said the department’s media team could not comment on the report due to the ongoing partial government shutdown.

CNN also has sought comment from the governments of Iran and Switzerland, which represents the United States’ diplomatic interests in Iran.

Tensions between Iran and the US have increased since the US in May withdrew from a nuclear deal with the Islamic republic and reinstated sanctions against it.

Other foreign nationals held in Iran

White would be one of several US citizens and other foreign nationals held in Iran. Detained Americans include:

• Siamak Namazi, and his father, Baquer Namazi, Iranian-Americans who have been detained since October 2015 and February 2016, respectively. The son was detained while visiting relatives in Tehran; both were sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison for what the Iranian government said was “cooperating with Iran’s enemies,” a euphemism that usually implies cooperating with the United States. American officials have demanded their release, saying the father and son did nothing wrong and do not deserve imprisonment.

• Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-born US citizen and Princeton University graduate student, was detained in August 2016 while doing scholarly research and studying Farsi, the university said. The Iranian government in 2017 said Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of spying. US officials have demanded his release.

US officials have also pushed Iran for information about the whereabouts of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and CIA contractor who went missing in Iran in 2007. Iran has denied having anything to do with his disappearance and said it doesn’t know where he is. His family sued Iran over his disappearance in 2017.

In December, six families of foreign or dual nationals held or believed to have disappeared in Iran — including the families of the Namazis and Levinson — issued an open letter, along with the New York-based Center for Human Rights, alleging they essentially were political hostages detained without due process.

Recent releases

Iran has released Americans and other foreign nationals in recent years.

In January 2016, Iran freed four US prisoners — Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian; Marine veteran Amir Hekmati; Christian pastor Saeed Abedin; and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari — in exchange for the US granting clemency to seven Iranians indicted or imprisoned in the United States.

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was separately released that month, US officials said.

Those releases came months after the international deal to restrict Iran’s nuclear program — the same deal from which the US withdrew last year.

In December, Abbas Edalat, a British-Iranian professor who was detained in Iran for eight months after being accused of affiliations with an anti-Iran group, was allowed to return to the United Kingdom.

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