January 16, 2016 / 8:22 PM / 2 years ago

Fifth American released in Iran is traveler, reporter, rower

WASHINGTON/BOSTON (Reuters) - The fifth American released by Iran on Saturday after 40 days in prison is a journalist and student who had traveled and worked in conflict-torn nations including Syria, Mali and Afghanistan, pausing along the way to try to start a rowing team.

Matthew Trevithick was released from Evin Prison in Tehran by Iranian authorities independently of four other Americans who were released in a prisoner swap as international sanctions were due to be lifted on Iran.

It is unclear why Trevithick, who was in Tehran studying Farsi, was imprisoned and his detention had not been reported by major media outlets.

The 6-foot, 4-inch (1.92-meter) former college rower had worked at American universities in Afghanistan and Iraq and written for publications including The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Beast, once traveling into Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley for an 8,500-word 2014 article on conditions as the United States began to sharply reduce its presence in the area.

“The piece he did in the Korengal was pretty daring. He was going into an area unarmed with a lot of jihadis. But he came out all right and wrote a good piece,” said Philip Smucker, a freelance journalist who had taught journalism at the American University of Afghanistan and was friendly with Trevithick while the two worked there.

Trevithick wrote in the article that he had chosen to travel to that part of Afghanistan because “every single actor in this conflict has a presence in this often forgotten province, making it the ideal test case for the future of this country.”

After leaving Afghanistan, Trevithick traveled to Iran in September, planning to spend four months studying Farsi in a center affiliated with Tehran University, according to a statement released by his family on Saturday.

“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,” said the statement, released by his mother, Amelia Newcomb, an editor at the Christian Science Monitor. “We look forward to reuniting with Matt.”

Trevithick’s family did not respond to requests for an interview.

Trevithick was a founder of the Syria Research and Evaluation Organization, a Turkey-based nonprofit that tracks the flow of humanitarian aid to Syria, and also was co-author of “An Undesirable Element: An Afghan Memoir,” the story of that country’s first post-Taliban minister of higher education.

In addition to his university work and journalism, Trevithick had worked to introduce rowing - a popular sport in his native Hingham, Massachusetts, an affluent Boston suburb - to Afghanistan.

In a 2013 interview with a Boston University publication, he described his hopes for spreading the sport he had competed in while attending that school.

“Afghanistan has tense relations with all its neighbors, some of whom they consider meddlesome,” BU’s “Bostonia” blog quoted Trevithick as saying. “Pakistan and Iran have rowing programs and I’ve assured the Afghans that we will start beating them very shortly.”

(This story has been corrected in third and seventh paragraphs after family corrected language being studied to Farsi, not Dari)

Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mary Milliken

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