Today is not just the day when Americans gather at picnics and memorial services to remember fallen men and women in uniform, but it’s the 1000th day that a Marine veteran has spent in the hands of the Iranian government.
Flagstaff, Ariz., native Amir Hekmati was seized by the Iranian government in August 2011 while on a trip, with proper visa documents from the Iranian government, to visit relatives in Tehran. He was originally sentenced to death in a quickie trial on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage, retried last month and sentenced to 10 years behind bars for “collaborating” with the U.S. government.
The Flint, Mich., resident has now spent two birthdays in Iranian custody and has been held by the Islamic Republic more than twice as long as the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostages.
“For 1,000 days, my constituent, Amir Hekmati, has been held prisoner in Iran. For 1,000 days, an innocent man has languished in a prison cell. For Amir’s last 1,000 days, holidays have passed. Birthdays have gone uncelebrated. Cherished moments with family have been missed,” said the Hekmati family’s member of Congress, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.).
“For all of us, our freedoms these past 1,000 days have often been taken for granted. But for Amir Hekmati, every day has been the same. Every day, he’s in the same prison cell, often for prolonged periods of time, with little or no access to the outside world,” Kildee added. “Amir is a man who admirably served his country as a Marine. In 2011, for the first time, he went to Iran – with their permission – to visit family and a grandmother he had never met. And now, for the past 1,000 days, he has been wrongfully imprisoned on false charges.”
In a statement today, Secretary of State John Kerry said “we remain especially concerned about reports of Mr. Hekmati’s health in prison.”
Amir has been held in the wing reserved for political prisoners at the notoriously harsh Evin prison, with much of his time spent in solitary confinement.
“Mr. Hekmati’s family in the United States has endured the hardship of his absence for too long. He is the eldest son, and his family misses him and needs him home,” Kerry continued. Amir is the only son of his parents Behnaz and Ali, the latter of whom is suffering from terminal brain cancer.
“We respectfully request that the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran release Mr. Hekmati so that he may be reunited with his family in the United States,” Kerry said.
Amir took his case directly to Kerry in a letter smuggled out of prison and obtained by the Guardian in September. He stressed that the confessions aired on state TV regarding the false charges were “obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement.”
“This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad,” Amir wrote in the letter confirmed authentic by his family. “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. I do not wish to set a precedent for others that may be unlawfully (obtained) for political gain in the future.”
“While my family and I have suffered greatly I will accept nothing but my unconditional release,” continued the onetime sergeant in the Corps who proudly served in the Iraq war.
Kildee and others participated in a vigil outside the White House a week ago to draw attention to Amir’s case. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) was unable to attend but met with Amir’s sister Sarah and brother-in-law Ramy while they were in Washington.
“I stand with them to demand that Iran free Amir immediately,” Stabenow said. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that he has been held illegally in Iran for one day, let alone for 1,000 days. My thoughts and prayers are with the family for a quick end to this outrage so Amir can be back with his family and his ailing father.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) stressed that “Amir’s imprisonment is unjust, and though injustice may last for one day or 1,000, history teaches us that ultimately, justice is too powerful to deny.”
“We again call upon President Rouhani and the Iranian government to make a powerful statement about their desire to rejoin the community of responsible nations, to end this injustice, and release Amir on humanitarian grounds,” Levin added.
“We have not forgotten – nor will we ever forget – Amir Hekmati, and we won’t stop advocating for his release until he returns home,” Kildee said.
“Amir fought for our freedoms as a Marine and we must honor his service and sacrifice by fighting for him now. Not a day goes by that I don’t raise Amir’s case with my colleagues in Congress, many of whom have joined me in calling on Iran to do the right thing and release Amir. Amir is innocent, has been imprisoned for too long, and needs to be released so he can return to his family in Michigan.”
(TO HELP: Amir Hekmati has been in Evin prison for 1,000 days. Log on to FreeAmir.org, where you can write a letter to be delivered to Amir and sign a petition for his release. Purchase “Free Amir” gear or download a free sign to raise awareness about his case, and use the hashtag #FreeAmir when tweeting about it. Help offset the family’s mounting expenses with a donation. Write to President Obama or your member of Congress to lobby for Amir’s release. Follow Twitter updates at @FreeAmirHekmati or show your support on the campaign’s Facebook page.)