Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) implored his colleagues today to not forget about Americans held in Iran while the administration negotiates a nuclear deal with Tehran.
Kildee represents the Flint, Mich., home of Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, who was seized by Iranian authorities in August 2011 and is held in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
The congressman stressed in a floor speech, with a placard of Amir’s Marine photo, that he is “an American citizen, born and raised in the United States; grew up in my hometown of Flint, Michigan; served in the United States Marine Core; he is a brother, he is a son.”
“Three and a half years ago he traveled to Iran. His parents are of Iranian descent. He traveled to Iran to meet for the first time a grandmother that he had never seen, traveled under his own name, notified the government that he was going,” Kildee said. “And after just a couple of weeks, he was apprehended, disappeared, and a few months later it was revealed that he had been tried and convicted, and sentenced to death.”
That was later commuted to 10 years in prison for alleged conspiracy to commit espionage.
“A young man, an American, traveling under his own name in Iran, who had served in the United States Marine Corps, was sentenced to death simply for being an American in Iran that had served this country. He’s an innocent man, and he continues to languish in Evin prison.”
Kildee wanted to “make it clear that the Congress of the United States and the American people are watching the Iranian government.”
“If in fact Iran intends, as they purport to do, to try to take steps to join the international community, they cannot hold Americans like Amir Hekmati as political prisoners,” he stressed. “Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, from John Lewis to Darrell Issa, have joined in the effort to raise awareness around Amir Hekmati’s case. It is important that we never let this case fade into the woodwork.”
“I think about Amir the same way that I would think about it if my own son were being held in a prison on the other side of the world. And I know that every other member of Congress who’s been engaged in this effort feels the same way. He is one of us. He is our son. And he needs to be reunited with his family.”
Kildee noted the current nuclear negotiations with Iran, adding it’s “very difficult for many of us in Congress, especially those of us who represent those few Americans being held in an Iranian prison to view this agreement other than through the lens of that imprisonment.”
“If Iran truly intends to try to rejoin the global community, they can make a very clear demonstration of their seriousness by releasing Amir Hekmati and the other Americans that they hold, and we all can play a role in making that happen, and I encourage everybody out there, members of Congress, people who want to want to become engaged to get to social media, use the hashtag #FreeAmir or hashtag #FreeAmirNow,” he said.
“We know that the Iranian government does pay attention to what the American people think. The Iranian citizens certainly do, and we know that we have to keep the pressure on right now. As I said, it is very difficult for many of us who support the direction that this administration has taken in these negotiations and really hope that it bears fruit, really hope that it creates an agreement that makes the world, and particularly that region safer. We can only really accept Iran as a member of the global community not just by entering into this agreement but by them joining the world community by not being a nation that can take a young man who served this country, who grew up here, was the captain of his high school hockey team, simply wanted to go to see the country that his parents were born in and to visit the grandmother that he had never met, to hold him as a political prisoner, as a chip in a geopolitical struggle, is beyond the pale, and it’s something that can’t be accepted.”
Kildee asked his colleagues to “make sure not that one day passes – especially during this period where we’re considering this potentially historic agreement – not one day passes where Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Pastor Abedini, that their cases, their names are never forgotten.”