Family ‘overjoyed’ British father released from Iranian jail in US prisoner swap


The family of a British man being flown out of Iran on Monday in a $6 billion (£4.8 billion) prisoner swap have spoken of their joy at his release after six years in captivity.

Wildlife conservationist Morad Tahbaz, 66, who also holds Iranian citizenship, was taken back into custody at the notorious Evin prison in Tehran on the same day as charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was released back to the UK.

Mr Tahbaz, who has cancer, was arrested during a crackdown on environmental activists in January 2018.

His family posted an emotional statement to X about the “surreal” release on Monday, saying: “We are overjoyed and relieved to finally have Morad and Vida free and on their way back home after six years.

“We are grateful to President Biden and his Administration for making the difficult but necessary decision to prioritize the lives of American citizens over politics. Thank you for leading with courage and compassion.”

They added: “At this time we are focused on the reunion of our family, the physical and mental health of Morad and Vida, and the path to recovery of these lost years.”

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with his colleagues on vague charges of spying for the US and undermining Iran’s security.

His release finally came on Monday after a Doha-brokered deal between the United States and Iran unfroze $6 billion of Tehran’s funds.

The Qatari plane to freedom was earlier on standby after the U.S. and Iran were told, according to a source, the funds had been transferred to accounts in Qatar.

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“U.S. detainees are being transported to the Qatari jet,” the source told Reuters.

An Amnesty International spokesman who campaigned for Mr Tahbaz’s release said the human rights organisation and his family were “holding back from commenting until we hear that Morad and the others are safely out of the country”.

He reportedly has his wife alongside him on the flight leaving Iran.

The Foreign Office has been approached for comment.

Mehran Raoof, a British-Iranian national and a labour rights activist, is still being detained in Tehran’s Evin prison after Revolutionary Guards agents arrested him in October 2020.

According to reports, Tahbaz had been using camera traps to monitor endangered species, including the Persian leopard and Asiatic cheetah.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed the environmentalists were committing espionage by photographing Iranian military installations.

Roxanne Tahbaz holds a picture of her father Morad Tahbaz, who is in jail in Iran (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said: “Fortunately Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea were released and God willing today the assets will start to be fully controlled by the government and the nation.

“On the subject of the prisoner swap, it will happen today and five prisoners, citizens of the Islamic Republic, will be released from the prisons in the US,” he added.

“Five imprisoned citizens who were in Iran will be given to the US side.”

He said two of the Iranian prisoners will stay in the US.

The transfer of Iran’s funds under the agreement has drawn criticism from US Republicans who say President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is in effect paying a ransom for U.S. citizens.

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