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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 April 2019

Iran sentences US navy veteran to 10 years in jail

Michael White was charged for insulting the country’s top leader and posting a private photograph

In this 2018 photograph released by lawyer Mark Zaid, Michael R. White, right, is seen with his mother, Joanne White, left. White, a U.S. Navy veteran from California, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, his lawyer said Saturday.  AP
In this 2018 photograph released by lawyer Mark Zaid, Michael R. White, right, is seen with his mother, Joanne White, left. White, a U.S. Navy veteran from California, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, his lawyer said Saturday.  AP

A US navy veteran has been sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison after visiting an Iranian woman in the city of Mashhad last July.

Michael White, 46, was arrested last July and sentenced to two years on charges of insulting the country’s top leader and posting a private photograph publicly.

It is not clear what the basis for the first charge is. The second charge appears to be related to a picture of Mr White sitting with the woman, which was posted on social media.

Iranian authorities have not released details of the charges. The family lawer, Mark Zaid, said the situation has “been very unclear.”

"We are just learning of information concerning Michael's sentence. After receiving news of the conviction we're in the process of hiring a local Iranian attorney to pursue whatever appeals exist," Mr Zaid said.

"It's unclear at this time whether Michael is simply an unfortunate foreigner caught in a very different legal system or being used as a political pawn."

Gholamali Sadeghi, an Iranian prosecutor, said in January that Mr White was being held in connection to a "private complaint," according to Mehr news agency.

Mr White, an American citizen and a California native, served 13 years in the US navy. Mr Zaid said the state department was still trying to determine whether the charges may be politically motivated.

The arrest has further strained the difficult relationship between the Trump administration and Iran, which worsened when the US withdrew from an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and re-imposed sanctions.

“We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad," the State Department said in a statement.

Mr White has been permitted to meet with Swiss officials – who act as intermediaries for the US government, which does not have a consular presence in Iran – twice since his arrest, Mr Zaid said.

He was tried over the course of two hearings on March 6 and 9 and has 22 days to appeal.

Other US citizens imprisoned in Iran in recent years include father-and-son Baquer and Siamak Namazi and Xiyue Wang.

British-Iranian dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran since 3 April 2016 "for allegedly plotting to topple the Iranian government."

Updated: March 17, 2019 06:49 PM

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