Iran sentences US Navy veteran to 10 years in prison

Michael R. White, US Navy veteran from California, reportedly sent to prison for insulting supreme leader.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Michael R. White, a US Navy veteran from California has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in Iran, his lawyer said Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

White is the first American known to be imprisoned in Iran since President Donald Trump took office.

Iran, which in the past has used its detention of Westerners and dual nationals as leverage in negotiations, has yet to report on White’s sentence in state-controlled media. Its mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“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,” Washington-based lawyer Mark Zaid told AP.

White’s arrest was first reported by IranWire, an online news service run by Iranian expatriates, which interviewed a former Iranian prisoner who said he met White at Vakilabad Prison in the northeastern city of Mashhad in October.

In the time since, White has been convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online, Zaid said.

The lawyer added that the information surrounding the case remained vague. He learned of the sentence from the State Department, which in turn learned of it from the Swiss government, which looks after American interests in Iran.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AP on Saturday. The New York Times first reported White’s 10-year sentence.

White’s mother, Joanne White, told the Times that her son, who lives in Imperial Beach, California, went to Iran to see a woman she described as his girlfriend and had booked a July 27 flight back home to San Diego via the United Arab Emirates. She filed a missing person report with the State Department after he did not board the flight. She added that he had been undergoing treatment for a neck tumor and has asthma.

White worked as a cook in the US Navy and left the service about a decade ago. Zaid said Saturday that White apparently traveled to Mashhad without informing the woman in advance.

White’s case is the latest involving an American held in Iran. There are three other Americans known to be held in Iran: Iranian-American Siamak Namazi and his octogenarian father Baquer, Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, and Chinese-American graduate student Xiyue Wang

Also in an Iranian prison is Nizar Zakka, a US permanent resident from Lebanon who advocated for internet freedom and has done work for the US government. He was sentenced to 10 years on espionage-related charges.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission and remains missing. Iran insists that Levinson is not in the country and that it has no further information about him.

Levinson was not included in a 2016 breakthrough prisoner swap between Iran and the US, which saw four American citizens freed in return for the release of seven Iranians jailed in the United States.

Levinson's family has filed a lawsuit against the Iranian government in the United States. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages from Iran, in part for inflicting emotional distress on Levinson’s wife and seven children.