Iran “will try to speed up” the case involving a detained U.S. permanent resident who advocates Internet freedom, an Iranian official said Monday, making the first government acknowledgment of the man’s detention.
Hossein Jaberi Ansari’s brief comments focused on Lebanese citizen Nizar Zakka, who disappeared in Tehran in September after attending a government-sponsored conference.
Although no charges have been announced, Iranian media has accused him of being an American spy, allegations vigorously rejected by his family and associates.
“The Iranian government will try to speed up the process of addressing this issue and provide any help possible, but ultimately a legal case should be addressed by judicial authorities,” Ansari said in Tehran at a weekly news conference. “Any verdict by the judicial authorities will be the final ruling and we do not intervene in judicial rulings.”
The Associated Press reported last week that the Washington-based nonprofit organization headed by Zakka, IJMA3, had received grants totaling $730,000 from the U.S. government for Middle East projects. It is not clear from records obtained by the AP if any IJMA3 work involved Iran.
Zakka’s family and his supporters are pressing the U.S. government to become more active in trying to obtain his release, arguing that his arrest was due to his ties to America.
Supporters have written Secretary of State John Kerry stating Zakka traveled to Iran “with the knowledge and approval of the U.S. State Department, and his trip was funded by grants” from it.
His friends say they can’t obtain copies of the contract from the State Department due to federal regulations.
It’s still unclear what prompted Iranian authorities to detain Zakka. His supporters say his September trip marked the fifth time he had traveled to Iran.
Relations between Iran and the U.S. remain tense even after the recent nuclear deal and a prisoner swap in January that freed Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other Iranian-Americans.
At least two Iranian-Americans are imprisoned in the Islamic Republic, Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi and his 80-year-old father Baquer Namazi. Also unaccounted for is former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission.