A month ago, U.S. Marine veteran Amir Hekmati pleaded with President Obama to help end his ordeal in Tehran’s Evin prison on trumped-up espionage charges.
Now, held for 1,235 days by Iran, he has appealed directly to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for his release — and revealed chilling details about his captivity in the process.
Amir, born in Flagstaff, Ariz., was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized. “As many other Iranians born in the US, I dreamed of visiting my parents’ homeland and learning more of my Iranian heritage. Unfortunately, after receiving assurances from the Iranian Interest Section in Washington DC, after only three weeks I was arrested, sentenced to death, and subsequently ten years to only discover that the Iranian Interest Section was an accomplice in my arrest. I have been imprisoned for three years now, enduring miserable prison conditions that cause great damage to my physical and mental health,” he wrote.
He spent the first four months in a cell just over three feet by three feet. For 17 months, he “endured a tiny cell with little access to sunlight, little to no contact with family, no access to legal representation, starvation, malnutrition, sensory deprivation, threats, and ridicule and insults to my family and country by Ministry of Intelligence personnel.”
No longer in solitary confinement, Amir was able to dictate the letter to his family over the phone as he did with the letter to Obama.
Still, “conditions remain dire” as Amir is housed with “hardened criminals” among food and energy shortages, while back home in Flint, Mich., his father, Ali, is dying of a brain tumor.
“For the past three years, my family has been receiving emails and phone calls from individuals within Iran proposing prisoner exchanges, even going as far as asking my family to lobby publicly for the release of these individuals,” he wrote to Rouhani. “Considering I have committed no crime and have no connections to these individuals, my family and I fail to see why we should have to lobby for their release or why I should have to spend the next ten years in prison.”
Amir alluded to deal-making propositions in an earlier letter smuggled to Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, stressing that he would “accept nothing but my unconditional release” as Iranian intelligence officials suggested he be swapped for two of their own. “I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition,” he wrote then. “I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future.”
In the Rouhani letter, Amir noted the double-speak of Iran’s foreign ministry claiming it holds no Americans — they consider him Iranian because of his parents, despite the fact that he was born in the U.S. — while suggesting that the Marine could be swapped for Iranians held in U.S. prisons.
“If I am an Iranian citizen, according to [Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh] Afkham, how can Iran falsely imprison its own citizen and trade him for another Iranian?” He also noted that Afkham has stated publicly that the Iranians they want released have only violated sanctions laws, while individuals contacting the Hekmati family have demanded the release of Iranians held for crimes of “a much more serious nature.”
“…If your government’s claims are true that Iranians being held in the US are innocent and are being held on false pretenses and you consider this wrong, then why has the Iranian government been engaged in the very same wrong repeatedly over the previous decades?”