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Iran frees 3 Europeans in prisoner swap as detained American's lawyer denies rumors of imminent release

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Berlin — Two Austrian citizens and a Danish national who were held in Iran were being released and allowed to return home, officials in Austria and Belgium said Friday. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said he was "very relieved" that Kamran Ghaderi and Massud Mossaheb were being brought back to their home country after "years of arduous detention in Iran."

He thanked the foreign ministers of Belgium and Oman for providing "valuable support," without elaborating on what form it took.

The Reuters news agency cited a Belgian government statement as saying a Danish person arrested in Iran in November 2022 in connection with women's rights demonstrations was the third individual being released Friday as part of a prisoner swap.

The agreement was to see Iranian diplomat Asadollah Assadi freed from Belgian custody. He was convicted in Belgium in 2021 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in a foiled bomb plot targeting Iranian exiles in France. A gaunt-looking Belgian aid worker, Olivier Vandecasteele, returned to Brussels from Iran last week as the first person freed under the swap agreement.

FILE PHOTO: Belgian Aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who was arrested in Iran in 2022 and sentenced to 40 years in prison, is freed in a swap with an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium
Belgian Aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, 42, who was arrested on a visit to Iran in February 2022 and sentenced to 40 years in prison and 74 lashes on charges including spying, is welcomed by his family at Belgium's Melsbroek military airport after being freed in a swap for an Iranian diplomat imprisoned in Belgium in connection with a failed bomb plot, in Steenokkerzeel, Belgium, May 26, 2023. Didier Lebrun/Pool/REUTERS

Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge a release on Friday, which is part of the weekend in the Islamic Republic.

Iran has detained a number of foreigners and dual nationals over the years, accusing them of espionage or other state security offenses and sentencing them following secretive trials in which rights groups say they're denied due process. Critics have repeatedly accused Iran of using such prisoners as bargaining chips with the West.

At least three U.S. nationals and one permanent U.S. resident are among those "wrongfully detained" in Iran on charges dismissed by both their families and American officials as baseless.

In the hours before the news broke Friday about the Europeans' release, a lawyer for imprisoned U.S. national Siamak Namazi posted a message on Twitter denying reports that Namazi had informed his family that he was about to come home.

International human rights lawyer Jared Genser said in a Tweet that "rumors circulating in Iran" that Namazi "informed his family he'll be freed from Evin Prison w/in days are completely unfounded. Siamak didn't make any calls making this claim, and neither he nor his family have received such news."

Namazi, whose elderly father was also held by Iran until he was released on medical grounds late last year, went on a week-long hunger strike in January in a bid to pressure President Biden to "recognize just how desperate the situation of the U.S. hostages" in Iran had become.

A National Security Council spokesperson told CBS News in a statement when he began his strike that the U.S. government remained "committed to securing the freedom of Siamak Namazi, and we are working tirelessly to bring him home along with all U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained in Iran, including Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz."

An undated photo shows Baquer and Siamak Namazi.  Family handout

"Iran's wrongful detention of U.S. citizens for use as political leverage is outrageous," the statement from the NSC spokesperson said at the time. "Our priority is bringing all our wrongfully detained citizens home safely and as soon as possible and resolving the cases of missing and abducted U.S. citizens."

Namazi remains incarcerated in Iran's notorious Evin prison, along with Shargi and Tahbaz.  

U.S. permanent resident Shahab Dalili is also being detained in Iran.

Iran, facing Western sanctions over its rapidly advancing nuclear program, has faced protests in recent months and economic strain. However, it has seen the International Atomic Energy Agency drop two inquiries into its program while also reaching a detente with long-time foe Saudi Arabia through Chinese mediation.

Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to reopen diplomatic missions 05:16
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