- Associated Press - Saturday, October 16, 2010

TEHRAN | An Iranian-American businessman said Sunday he spent some of his more than two years in prison alongside protesters detained in Iran’s postelection crackdowns and praised his first taste of freedom as a blessing “no one can imagine.”

Reza Taghavi, from California, was released Saturday after five rounds of unusual face-to-face talks between Iranian officials and his American attorney — a former U.S. diplomat who ultimately convinced authorities that his 71-year-old client had no links to a rebel group blamed for a deadly mosque bombing in 2008.

Mr. Taghavi’s 29-month detention drew far less international attention than the campaign to free three young Americans taken into custody last year along Iran’s border with Iraq and accused of spying. But the conditions for release had clear similarities in apparent attempts to press Iranian grievances against Washington.

Iranian officials required Mr. Taghavi to visit survivors of the mosque bombing in the southern city of Shiraz. Mr. Taghavi denies any ties to the suspected bombers, who Iran says receive support from the United States and other Western governments.

Last month, one of the three Americans detained along the Iraq border in July 2009, Sarah Shourd, was granted freedom on $500,000 bail, but could leave the country only after meeting with children of an Iranian woman jailed in the United States and visiting families of Iranians held for two years by American forces in Iraq.

Miss Shourd’s two companions, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, remain in Tehran’s Evin Prison and face possible trial on espionage charges. Miss Shourd and the families of the other Americans deny they committed any crime and say they were just hiking in a scenic and relatively peaceful part of northern Iraq. They say that if the three did cross the border with Iran, they did so unwittingly.

Mr. Fattal is from Pennsylvania, Miss Shourd is from California and Mr. Bauer is from Minnesota. All three are graduates of the University of California at Berkeley.

“Freedom is something so good. No one can imagine. I hope everybody enjoys his freedom,” Mr. Taghavi told the Associated Press in Tehran.

Mr. Taghavi — who regularly visits Iran to conduct business and see family — had been imprisoned for passing $200 to someone suspected of links to a rebel group known as Tondar, which seeks to topple the Islamic system and was implicated in the mosque bombing.

Mr. Taghavi, who was never formally charged, denies knowingly supporting the faction. He told AP Television News that he was given the money by an acquaintance in the United States and “brought the money here without knowing anything about it.”

“After a month, I was arrested for that because those people were the terrorists who bombed the mosque,” added Mr. Taghavi, who lives in Southern California, which has a large Iranian immigrant community.

Iran repeatedly has accused the U.S. and Britain of backing militants and ethnic opposition groups to destabilize the Tehran government. Both countries have denied the accusations. In 2009, Iran hanged three men convicted of a role in the bombing in Shiraz, about 550 miles south of Tehran.

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