Iranian scientist detained in the United States on repatriation, Tehran says

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced the repatriation of scientist Cyrous Asgari on June 2, 2020. ATTA KENARE / AFP

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Cyrous Asgari was detained for several years in the United States on charges of theft of trade secrets. According to Tehran, he is being repatriated on Tuesday June 2 after being acquitted by the American justice system.


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“  Good news, an airplane carrying Dr. Cyrous Asgari has taken off from America. Congratulations to his wife and family.  The word is signed by Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on his Instagram account.

Researcher at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Cyrous Asgari, 59, seems to have been released outside the framework of a prisoner exchange. A rare fact between the two enemy countries which have had no diplomatic relations since 1980. Iran detains at least five Americans, while nearly twenty Iranians are detained in American prisons.

Despite his acquittal in November 2019, Cyrous Asgari had remained incarcerated in the United States, apparently for reasons related to immigration laws. In 2016, he was charged with theft of trade secrets during an academic visit to Ohio.

Affected by coronavirus, according to Tehran

Last March, the Iranian researcher had told the British daily The Guardian that the American immigration police kept him in a detention center in Louisiana without basic sanitation and refused his return to Iran despite his acquittal.

According to accessible immigration police databases, he is still being held in the state of Mississippi. The US State Department did not immediately react to this announced release. This Monday, Iranian Foreign Affairs announced that the scientist's file had been closed in the United States and that he would return shortly. Last month, Tehran reported that Cyrous Asgari contracted the new coronavirus during his detention.

The Iran recently called for a comprehensive exchange of prisoners with the US, which now hold 18 Iranians, according to a list compiled by AFP from official statements and press reports. Both countries have called for their release due to the pandemic.

Prisoner exchanges despite rising tensions

Several arrests or convictions of Iranians have taken place in the United States after President Donald Trump denounced in 2018 the Iranian international nuclear agreement of 2015 and re-imposed heavy sanctions against Tehran. Tensions between the two enemies have continued to escalate since. The two countries appeared twice on the brink of direct confrontation: in June 2019 after the destruction by Iran of an American drone in the Gulf, then in January 2020 after the assassination, in an American strike in Baghdad, of the powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

However, prisoner exchanges have taken place. Switzerland, which represents the interests of the United States in Iran, was on the front line during the last exchange to date, in December 2019. A Chinese American researcher imprisoned in Iran for more than three years, Xiyue Wang, and a Iranian stem cell professor detained in the United States since 2018, Massoud Soleimani, had been released.

Read also: Washington sanctions several Iranian officials, including the Minister of the Interior

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  • Iran
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