September 20, 2007 / 5:06 PM / 12 years ago

Iran frees Iranian-American from prison

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has released an Iranian-American academic from prison but judiciary officials said he was not free to leave the country, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday.

Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with George Soros’s New York-based Open Society Institute, was detained in May on spying charges while visiting Iran.

“Tajbakhsh was released on Wednesday night on around $100,000 bail, but he cannot leave the country,” a judiciary spokesman said. “The judge of his case should issue special permission to lift the ban on his departure.”

Tajbakhsh’s wife on Thursday said he was at home and told photographers who had gathered at his house in northern Tehran: “Please allow him rest. He is sleeping.”

Tajbakhsh, who works in the United States, earlier told reporters visiting Tehran’s Evin prison that he had been held in solitary confinement for about 120 days.

The Open Society Institute welcomed his release. “It is our hope that the ordeal for this distinguished scholar and his family has finally come to a close,” it said in a statement.

“We do hope that he would be allowed to leave the country and be able to be reunited with his family,” U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington.

Another Iranian-American academic also detained in May on the same charges, Haleh Esfandiari, a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, was released on bail in August. She returned to the United States earlier this month.

Despite her being freed on bail, the case against Esfandiari remains open although it is not clear if she will face trial. It is also not clear whether Tajbakhsh could still be tried.

Political analysts have seen the detention of U.S.-Iranians as part of a broader crackdown on dissent when Tehran is under Western pressure over its nuclear programme. Washington sees the programme as a bid to acquire nuclear bombs. Iran denies it.

Some have also linked Tehran’s actions to the detention in January by U.S. forces in Iraq of five Iranians, accused of backing Iraqi militants. Iran denies the charges, saying they are diplomats. Iran denies there are any links.

Iranian television in July aired “confessions” by Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, which the Foreign Ministry said had revealed a U.S.-backed plot to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers.

Washington denounced the programme as “illegitimate and coerced”, urging Tehran to release the detainees immediately.

Another dual national, Ali Shakeri, a founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at the University of California, is also being held at Evin Prison while a fourth was previously released on bail and left Iran.

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