By Joseph Ax
March 16 – A U.S. Navy veteran has been sentenced to 10 years in an Iranian prison, his family’s lawyer said, after he was arrested last July while visiting an Iranian woman in the city of Mashhad.
Michael White, 46, was convicted of two charges, insulting the country’s top leader and posting a private photograph publicly, in separate hearings on March 6 and March 9, according to the lawyer, Mark Zaid.
The basis for the first charge is not yet clear. The second charge appears to have been leveled after White uploaded a picture of himself sitting with the woman, an Iranian national, Zaid said.
Iranian authorities have not released details of the charges. The U.S. State Department said it was aware of White’s detention, but added that it could not provide additional information because of “privacy considerations.”
“We are aware of the detention of a U.S. citizen in Iran,” a State Department official said. “We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad.”
The family learned of the sentence earlier this week from the State Department, which in turn received the information from Swiss diplomats. The Swiss represent U.S. 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 are still trying to determine whether the charges are politically motivated or the result of a criminal prosecution, Zaid said.
“It’s been very unclear,” he added.
White’s arrest has further strained the difficult relationship between the Trump administration and Iran, which worsened after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from an international agreement curbing Iran‘s nuclear program and re-imposed sanctions.
The Iranian regime has imprisoned several other American citizens in recent years, including father-and-son Baquer and Siamak Namazi, and Xiyue Wang.
All three were accused of espionage-related activities and have denied the allegations. The United Nations has condemned the prosecutions as unjust, and Trump has demanded that Iran release all U.S. citizens in custody.
Since January, when Iran first confirmed White’s arrest, he has not been permitted to contact his family, Zaid said.
His court-appointed lawyer for the two hearings did not speak English, Zaid said, adding that the family is working on hiring an Iranian lawyer to handle White’s appeal.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom Editing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Berkrot)