Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati who was released by Iran over the weekend says he feels lucky to be free again.
"I feel really lucky. I feel alive for the first time," Hekmati said on January 19 in his first public comments since his release.
Hekmati, 32, spoke to reporters outside the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he and two other freed Americans are undergoing medical evaluations.
Hekmati and four other Iranian-Americans were released in a prisoner swap over the weekend. Iran announced their release on January 16 on the same day as international sanctions on Tehran were lifted.
"As soon as we got out of Iranian air space, the Champagne bottles were popped," Hekmati said.
Hekmati, who spent more than four years in a prison in Iran, said the news of his release came as a surprise.
“I was at a point where I had just sort of accepted the fact that I was going to be spending 10 years in prison," he said.
Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 on espionage charges that were denied by his family as. He was originally sentenced to death.
An appeals court later commuted the sentence to a 10-year jail term. He was reportedly held in solitary confinement and subjected to psychological torture.
Hekmati did not provide details about his time in prison. He said that his military training helped him withstand the pressure he faced.
Under the prisoner swap deal, the United States on January 16 offered clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom are dual U.S.-Iranian citizens, who had been convicted or were awaiting trial in the United States.
The prisoner swap took place after 14 months of confidential discussions in Switzerland.
With reporting by AP, NBC, and AFP