US Navy veteran released from Iran prison amid coronavirus concerns: State Dept

Published: Updated:

US Navy veteran Michael White has been freed from prison in Iran on medical furlough amid coronavirus concerns, according to the US State Department.

White was detained by the Iranian regime while in the city of Mashhad in July 2018, while he was visiting a girlfriend he reportely met online. He was sentenced to at least 10 years in prison on charges of insulting Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and posting anti-regime remarks on social media under a pseudonym.

His release is temporary and with the condition he remain in Iran.

“His release on humanitarian grounds was conditioned upon him staying in Iran. Michael is now in the custody of the Swiss embassy and will undergo medical testing and evaluation,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

The State Department called on the Iranian government to “immediately” release three other American prisoners on humanitarian grounds, and to “honor the commitment it made to work with the United States for the return of Robert Levinson,” a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007.

Iran announced on Tuesday it had freed about 85,000 prisoners since the coronavirus epidemic erupted in the country in late February.

“So far, some 85,000 prisoners have been released ... about 50 percent of them were security-related prisoners,” judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said during a briefing aired on state television.

The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran Javaid Rehman asked Tehran to free all political prisoners temporarily from the country’s overcrowded and disease-ridden jails to help contain the spread of the virus.

Rehman said the prisoners freed in Iran all had sentences of less than five years, while prisoners charged with longer sentences remained in jail.

Iran reported its death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 1,135 on Wednesday, with 17,361 cases in the country.