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Game developer imprisoned on spying charges in Iran is released (update)

Amir Hekmati had been in prison since 2011

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

A video game developer once sentenced to death by Iran on espionage charges was among four Iranian-Americans released from prison today, according to reports.

Amir Hekmati, 32, had been in Iranian custody since 2011. He had faced a death penalty during his original trial but was ultimately sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Hekmati was released along with Jason Rezaian, a reporter for The Washington Post; Saeed Abedini, a pastor from Boise, Idaho; and Siamak Namazi, a businessman held since October.

The New York Times reported that their releases coincide with the lifting of sanctions against Iran following the nuclear agreement brokered between it and the west this summer.

Hekmati, 32, was arrested in August 2011 while visiting relatives in Iran. He had been working for Kuma Reality Games, which had been contracted by the Department of Defense to build a language-learning video game. Iran said he confessed to being a spy; his family said that confession was coerced.

In October, Polygon made a public records request of the Central Intelligence Agency to learn more about the nature of the work Kuma Reality Games was doing for the CIA. That request was refused in December.

Hekmati had been sentenced to death Jan. 9, 2012, but that sentence was overturned March 5, 2012, and a retrial, held in secret, resulted in his 10-year term last April.

Update: The Hekmati family gave this statement concerning today's news: "We thank everyone for your thoughts during this time. There are still many unknowns. At this point, we are hoping and praying for Amir's long-awaited return."

Update 2: The Hekmati family later expanded on its initial statement, saying that Hekmati "is on a plane leaving the country":

Today, our brother, son and friend Amir Hekmati has been released from Iran. We have now been officially told that he is on a plane leaving the country.

It is hard to put into words what our family feels right now. But we remain in hopeful anticipation until Amir is in our arms. As many of you know, Amir’s father is very ill and soon he will embrace his son once more.

We are incredibly grateful for today’s news. We thank our government, and we thank all of you whose thoughts and prayers helped us tremendously since Amir was taken from us in 2011.

This morning, Amir Hekmati's sister, Sarah Hekmati, arrived at Frankfurt Airport in Germany to await Amir's landing.