US Navy veteran in Iran sentenced to 10 years in prison
A U.S. Navy veteran held in Iran since July while visiting an Iranian girlfriend has been sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges that he insulted the country’s top leader and posted a private photograph on social media, his family’s lawyer said Friday.
The lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the family had been informed earlier this week by the State Department of the sentencing of the veteran, Michael R. White, 46, of Imperial City, Calif.
The information was conveyed to the State Department by Swiss diplo- mats who represent American interests in Iran, Zaid said in a telephone interview. He said White, who has been incarcerated in the northeast city of Mashhad since his arrest eight months ago, has twice been granted Swiss consular visits.
White served in the Navy for 13 years and is the first American imprisoned in Iran since President Donald Trump took office more than two years ago.
The arrest has thrust a new irritant into what has become an increasingly confrontational relationship between the Trump administration and Iran.
Zaid said White had been given two hearings in an Iranian court, on March 6 and March 9, and was sentenced to two years for insulting Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s top leader, and 10 years for the posting of a private photo. He said it appeared that the sentences were to run concurrently.
Iranian officials have not explained further details of the two charges. Nor has White been permitted direct communication with his family, Zaid said.
White’s family has said that he traveled to Iran with a valid visa and that his sole purpose was to visit a woman with whom he had fallen in love. Precisely how they met, and additional details about the woman, have not been disclosed.
White’s mother, Joanne White, has repeatedly said she fears her son is in failing health and may have suffered a cancer recurrence while in Iran.
At least three other Americans have been imprisoned by Iran – Siamak Namazi, since October 2015; Baquer Namazi, since February 2016; and Xiyue Wang, since August 2016. All are accused of spying and sedition-related activities, which they have denied. Another American, Robert A. Levinson, has been missing in Iran since 2007.
Their families in the United States, increasingly bitter about the apparent inability of U.S. officials to secure their release, attended a congressional hearing last week to voice their grievances and urge the government to do more, including establishing a dialogue with Iran.