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BU Alum among Five Americans Freed by Iran

Matthew Trevithick released after 40 days in Tehran prison


Journalist and humanitarian Matthew Trevithick, a former BU rowing champion, was one of five Americans released from prison by the Iranian government on Saturday, January 16. The Hingham native had been studying Farsi in Tehran at the time of his arrest, and had been held for 40 days in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. He was met by his family at an emotional homecoming at Logan Airport Sunday evening. His release was separate from that of the four Iranian Americans also freed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trevithick’s release was not part of a negotiated prisoner swap that called for the United States to release seven Iranians, and the Boston Globe reports that Secretary of State John Kerry (Hon.’05) personally pressed for his release in negotiations that were so fraught with risk that Trevithick’s family was instructed not to mention his detainment.

The prisoner swap, which included the release of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, winner of BU’s 2015 Hugo Shong Reporting on Asia Award, who had been held in Evin Prison since July 2014, came just hours prior to an announcement that the United States and European nations were lifting sanctions they had imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program. The New York Times reports that the actions came after international inspectors determined that Iran had dismantled parts of its nuclear program.

No reason has been given for Trevithick’s arrest and detainment, which was not reported to US officials. The Boston Globe reports that US officials received confirmation of Trevithick’s detainment in December after his family had become concerned for his safety. Amelia Newcomb, Trevithick’s mother, told the Globe that the family received a monitored phone call from her son about halfway through his imprisonment.

Trevithick (CGS’06, CAS’08) is known to many in the BU community for his efforts, chronicled in a 2013 Bostonia story, to launch a rowing team in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was director of communications for the American University of Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014. The six-foot-four-inch 2008 Head of the Charles silver medalist has an abiding passion for competitive rowing and for cultures of the Middle East. He studied Arabic at BU, where he majored in international relations. According to his website, after graduating Trevithick joined the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., where he worked as a research assistant for writer Robin Wright on her book Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Muslim World, which won an Overseas Press Club award for Best Nonfiction Title in 2012. He also worked at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

Trevithick then landed a job as assistant to the provost at the American University of Iraq Sulaimani, arriving there with a 90-pound rowing machine, and he soon enlisted other BU oarsmen to help organize a rowing club. In 2010, he moved to Kabul, where he edited the autobiography of the country’s first minister of higher education after the fall of the Taliban, and wrote for the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Daily Beast. Trevithick, who was active on social media, was a cohost on Sources & Methods, a biweekly podcast whose website says that “interesting people doing interesting things get to talk about the what, how, and why of what they do.”

In 2013, Trevithick cofounded SREO, a nonpartisan research center based in Turkey, whose mission, its website says, “is to develop practical strategies for stakeholders and donors engaged in Syria to effectively respond to the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis.” In September, he took a four-month leave of absence from the organization to study Farsi at the Dehkhoda Lexicon Institute & International Center for Persian Studies, a language school affiliated with Tehran University.

Trevithick’s family issued the following statement after his release Saturday: “We are very happy that our son, Matthew Trevithick, was released today after 40 days of detention at Evin prison in Tehran.…We are profoundly grateful to all those who worked for his release and are happy for all the families whose loved ones are also heading home. We look forward to reuniting with Matt and ask that everyone respect his privacy as he returns.”

Besides Trevithick and Rezaian, the other prisoners released Saturday are Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran from Flint, Mich., Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Boise, Idaho, and Nosratollah Khosravi, a business consultant who works for a United Arab Emirates–based oil company. As of this writing, Khosravi remains in Iran.

The New York Times reports that the negotiations for the release took place in Geneva, and that the Iranians released were described by American officials as convicts or suspects in sanctions violations.

Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

7 Comments on BU Alum among Five Americans Freed by Iran

  • Logic Rules on 01.19.2016 at 7:42 am

    Nice story. One has assume certain risks in certain professions when in foreign countries. While Tehran may be a place for studying Farsi, is it the safest? Is Somalia, the most appropriate place to study Sufisn? No. Why not?….because they are not safe places. If one want to travel the world, they have to assume the detainment is part of countries’ legal systems. Travel to safe places!

    • Just another BU parent on 01.19.2016 at 9:20 am

      Careful: we must be careful to not confuse self-preservation and logic.

  • F.B. King on 01.19.2016 at 9:13 am

    When smart people like Trevithick venture into risky territory, there is usually a good reason. In his case, a very good one. Yes, he takes the risk, but this is an intelligent and thoughtful scholar whose interests were best pursued on site. I note he also worked for an old childhood friend of mine, Robin Wright, whose own pursuits took her regularly into danger zones. These people are explorers and their knowledge informs our own. Their courage seems to be part of the job description.

    • Logic Rules on 01.20.2016 at 7:53 am

      Let’s not confuse courage with common sense. If it was not for intervention by the government, he and others would still be at Evin. To put one’s self in harm’s way, one should consider the potential consequences.

  • dan bee on 01.20.2016 at 6:44 am

    Math makes me proud to be an American, a rower, a scholar and almost as handsome.

    Logic would cause us all to learn languages in bunkers such as were used on the TV series LOST. If we all did that, we would ALL be LOST too.

    Anyone want to help start an international social media group where Matt’s choices can be discussed and understood? This is a teachable moment.

    Dan Bee Hamilton Mass. 1/20/16

  • Logic Rules on 01.22.2016 at 1:49 pm

    Another US citizen arrested in another foreign country



    Can’t people realize that if you travel to certain countries, your life is at risk. How cavalier can a person be?

    The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran. Dual national Iranian-American citizens may encounter difficulty in departing Iran. U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider nonessential travel. This Travel Warning updates the Travel Warning for Iran issued January 16, 2015.

    On July 14, 2015, the United States and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to address the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. This deal over Iran’s nuclear program does not alter the United States’ assessment of the risks of travel to Iran for U.S. citizens. The United States does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the government of Iran.

    Some elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States. As a result, U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran. Since 2009, Iranian authorities have prevented the departure, in some cases for several months, of a number of Iranian-American citizens, including journalists and academics, who traveled to Iran for personal or professional reasons. Iranian authorities also have unjustly detained or imprisoned U.S. citizens on various charges, including espionage and posing a threat to national security. U.S. citizens of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran. Iranian authorities deny the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran access to imprisoned dual national Iranian-American citizens because Iranian authorities consider them to be solely Iranian citizens; access to U.S. citizens without dual nationality is often denied as well.

    The Iranian government continues to repress some minority religious and ethnic groups, including Christians, Baha’i, Arabs, Kurds, Azeris, and others. Consequently, some areas within the country where these minorities reside, including the Baluchistan border area near Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Kurdish northwest of the country, and areas near the Iraqi border, remain unsafe. Iranian authorities have detained and harassed U.S. citizens, particularly those of Iranian origin. Former Muslims who have converted to other religions, religious activists, and persons who encourage Muslims to convert are subject to arrest and prosecution.

    The U.S. government does not have diplomatic or consular relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and therefore cannot provide protection or routine consular services to U.S. citizens in Iran. The Swiss government, acting through its Embassy in Tehran, serves as protecting power for U.S. interests in Iran. The range of consular services provided by the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy is limited and may require significantly more processing time than at U.S. embassies or consulates. The Iranian government does not recognize dual citizenship and will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals.

    Our ability to assist U.S. citizens in Iran in the event of an emergency is extremely limited. U.S. citizens in Iran should ensure that they have updated documentation at all times and make their own plans in the event of an emergency. For more information, see “What the Department of State Can and Can’t Do in a Crisis” at the Department’s website.

  • Jose Artigas on 01.22.2016 at 6:53 pm

    Glad you’re back, Matt!

    Who’d have thought it? Diplomacy works! At least it does when Obama practices the diplomatic arts. Republicans should try it sometime.

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