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Iran says American dual-national sentenced to prison for spying

Former Iran hostage shares his story
Former Iran hostage shares his story 02:56

Tehran, Iran — An Iranian-American has been sentenced to prison on spying charges, Iran's judiciary reported Tuesday, the latest dual national held in the country amid tensions with the West. Iran's judiciary did not name the man sentenced but said he had been free on bail and re-arrested while trying to flee the country. 

Iranian media said a businessman named Emad Sharghi was arrested while trying to leave the country through a western border. Iranian media said Sharghi is a dual U.S.-Iranian national, and that his wife's passport was also confiscated to prevent her leaving the country.  

It was the first arrest of an American or a U.S. dual national announced by Iran since President Joe Biden was sworn in earlier this month, and it may complicate Mr. Biden's efforts to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear accord that his predecessor pulled the U.S. out of in 2018. 

Thousands of prisoners in Iran have been let out on bail amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in the country.
 
Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said the man had been convicted on espionage charges and of providing military information to foreign countries.

U.S. media outlets earlier quoted a friend of Shargi's family as saying the businessman, 56, was summoned to a court in Tehran in November and told he'd been convicted of spying, without any trial, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
 
The judiciary didn't say on Tuesday where, or if the dual national sentenced to prison had faced trial. However, previous cases involving those with Western ties accused of espionage have been heard in Iran's Revolutionary Courts. The accused have often been sentenced to as much as 10 years in prison.

Ex-inmate: American jailed in Iran suffering 03:06

Families of those detained in Iran have criticized Tehran over such trials, saying their loved ones are being held as leverage for negotiations with the West. They've described court proceedings during which their family members have been unable to even present any evidence.
 
The United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has described such cases as part of "an emerging pattern involving the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of dual nationals." Iran denies that and insists its courts remain separate from political interference.

If Sharghi was the man sentence to prison, he would be the fourth U.S. national held by Iran. Americans Michael White, Siamak Namazi and Baquer Namazi are also imprisoned in the country on charges of spying, which they deny. 

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Baquer Namazi and Siamak Namazi Family handout photo

In 2019, then-President Donald Trump swapped a jailed Iranian scientist to secure the release of Xiyue Wang, who spent three and half years in an Iranian prison on fabricated charges of espionage.  

Xiyue told CBS News' Margaret Brennan just weeks ago that his interrogator "very explicitly" told him they had imprisoned him in hopes that the U.S. would make a deal. 

"The Ministry of Intelligence interrogator told me clearly that they need me as a spy to convict me so that they can do a deal with the United States," he said.   

Robert Levinson, another American, has been missing in Iran since 2007 and is presumed to have died there.

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