After two years of being incarcerated in Iran, former Navy Sailor Michael White was released on Thursday after the United States deported Sirous Asgari, an Iranian scientist who was acquitted last year on charges of trying to steal trade secrets. Asgari was being held in an ICE facility.
The U.S. also terminated a case in Florida against an Iranian-American doctor, Majid Taheri, who was accused of violating trade sanctions. Taheri served 16 months in a detainment facility and was sentenced on Thursday to time served.
White’s mother called the entire experience a living nightmare. “For the past 683 days my son, Michael, has been held hostage in Iran by the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps] and I have been living a nightmare,” said Joanne White.
“I am blessed to announce that the nightmare is over, and my son is safely in American custody and on his way home,” she said, thanking President Trump and the State Department for working to get her son released.
President Trump, who always likes to announce things on Twitter, did so again on Thursday morning.
“I am happy to announce that Navy Veteran, Michael White, who has been detained by Iran for 683 days, is on a Swiss plane that just left Iranian Airspace. We expect him to be home with his family in America very soon,” Trump wrote. “I will never stop working to secure the release of all Americans held hostage overseas! Thank you, Switzerland for your great assistance.”
“I want to extend my personal thanks to President Trump for his efforts both diplomatically and otherwise,” White said upon his arrival at Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. “He is making America great again and I look forward to what is going to happen here in the future.”
“This should have and could have been done earlier, but I am glad and relieved that Mike is on his way home to get treated and rejoin Joanne and his family,” Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and U.N. ambassador, said. Richardson had worked with the White family to get the Navy vet released.
“COVID-19 presents countries around the world, including our own, with an unprecedented challenge. The health and wellbeing of prisoners are the responsibility of the country holding them,” Richardson added in a statement.
Sirous Asgari, the Iranian scientist, was acquitted of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University. His release from an ICE facility immediately fueled speculation that the United States and Iran were working on a prisoner swap. However, Iran’s Foreign Minister denied that any deal was in the works.
“Speculations about an exchange of Asgari for other individual is not accurate. His freedom came about based on his acquittal from charges,” Abbas Mousavi said, on Iran’s state-controlled television.
Two years ago, White was arrested while visiting his girlfriend. The Iranian authorities accused White of violating that woman’s privacy by posting a picture of her on Instagram and also of insulting Iran’s supreme leader. He was given a 10-year sentence in 2019. He is both a cancer and a Coronavirus survivor.
After flying out of Iran on a Swiss aircraft, White was met in Switzerland by U.S. envoy Brian Hook who then accompanied White back to the United States.