US Navy veteran sentenced to 10 years in Iran: Lawyer

A US Navy veteran has been sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison for insulting the country’s leader and publishing private information publicly, according to his family’s lawyer.

Michael White was arrested in July last year while reportedly visiting an Iranian woman in the city of Mashad. Iran confirmed the arrest in January.

On Saturday, lawyer Mark Zaid said White was sentenced to two years for insulting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and 10 years for posting a picture.

The two sentences – handed out in separate hearings on March 6 and March 9 – will apparently be served concurrently.

Iranian authorities have not released details of the charges and official Iranian media has not reported on the case.

White’s family learned of the sentencing earlier this week from the US State Department, which in turn received the information from Swiss diplomats. The Swiss represent US interests in Iran because the countries do not maintain diplomatic ties.

White, a California native, served 13 years in the Navy.

The family and the State Department were still trying to determine whether the charges were politically motivated or the result of a criminal prosecution, Zaid said.

“Obviously the concern is that the Iranians are using this as a tool against the United States, given the other individuals who are in custody,” Zaid told The Associated Press news agency.

The State Department has not commented on the sentence. 

White is the first US citizen to be detained during Donald Trump’s presidency. In office since January 2017, Trump has taken a hard-line approach to Iran, withdrawing from a landmark multinational deal to curb the country’s nuclear programme and reimposing sanctions.

Three other US citizens are known to be imprisoned in Iran, including Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his octogenarian father Baquer, a former UNICEF representative who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan. Both are serving 10-year sentences on espionage charges. 

Graduate student Xiyue Wang was sentenced to 10 years in prison for allegedly “infiltrating” the country while doing doctoral research on Iran’s Qajar dynasty.

A fourth, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, has been missing in Iran since 2007. Iran says he is not in the country and they have no further information about him. 

The last time Iran released any imprisoned Americans was when the international accord on Iran’s nuclear programme took effect in January 2016.

The Iranians released four Americans, including Jason Rezaian, the former correspondent for The Washington Post. In exchange, the US released several Iranians held on sanctions violations.

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