A U.S. Marine veteran held in Iran’s Evin prison for 1,206 days has issued a personal plea to President Obama to “help end the nightmare I have been living.”
Amir Hekmati was arrested in 2011 while visiting extended family in the Islamic Republic. A first-generation American born in Flagstaff, Ariz., after his parents came to America in 1979, Iran claims that because of his father’s Iranian origin, the Marine sergeant who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom is not an American citizen.
The Hekmatis first learned of the charges against Amir through Iran’s semi-official media, which reported in December 2011 that an American spy was captured. In January 2012, Amir was coerced to confess on national TV, and his family felt optimistic that his release, if past cases were an indicator, might soon follow.
What followed that on-air “confession,” though, was a half-day, closed-door show trial in which Amir was allowed just five minutes with a government-appointed attorney. For charges of intention to commit espionage, something that doesn’t even carry capital punishment under Iranian law, Amir was sentenced to die.
“From January to March, imagine waking up every day to check the news to see if they’ve executed your brother,” his sister, Sarah, told PJM earlier this year. The death sentence was eventually overturned and in April a closed-door court found Amir guilty of “collaboration” with the U.S. government and sentenced him to 10 years behind bars.
In late September, Amir’s sister Sarah and brother-in-law Ramy went to the United Nations to seek help from the P5+1 partners negotiating with Iran on a nuclear deal.
Amir’s father, Ali, 63, suffers from terminal brain cancer and has had three strokes. He filmed a video recently released by the family in which he weakly describes the “rough life” he’s endured lately and addresses his son directly: “It has been a long time since last I’ve seen you.”
Amir was recently plucked from the political prisoners section of Tehran’s notorious Evin prison and transferred to Ward 7, a lower security section generally used for white-collar convicts. Here, he’s been able to call home about every other day.
In this way, he was able to dictate the letter to Obama.
“As you are well aware, I have been detained in Evin Prison in Iran for more than three years. In fact, my mother informs me that as of today, December 15, 2014, it has been more than 1,200 days. One-thousand and two-hundred days, which have included solitary confinement and mistreatment. I remain confined without a fair trial and no idea or understanding of what is to be my fate,” Amir wrote.
“Every day, I wake hoping that there is news of my release. Every night, I go to sleep disappointed to mark another day that I am still behind these prison walls, away from my family, friends and meaningful human contact. Away from my father who is gravely ill. There is no end in sight.”
Despite all that he’s endured, Amir continues in the letter, “I hold on to my innocence and the knowledge that I was wrongly imprisoned. I plead my case to all who will listen. But, unfortunately, my pleas fall on deaf ears. As hope fades, I remain alone and weakened.”
“With no answer in sight, I am deeply concerned that my future has become tied to the nuclear negotiations with Iran, with which I have no connection, influence or leverage. I can draw no other conclusion, as each opportunity for a legal or humanitarian remedy is ignored, delayed or denied,” he wrote.
“I ask that you not forget me, Mr. President. I understand that there will be additional dialogue this week on the nuclear subject. I ask that you make it clear that my case is unrelated and should be resolved independent of your talks. I ask that your team impress upon the Iranian officials that more than three years without resolution is simply too long. My punishment has already far exceeded the charges brought against me, charges that I continue to contest to no avail. I know that the climate between the United States and Iran is delicate. But I should not fall victim to it.”
The Marine closes by stressing to Obama, “I am a son, a brother, an uncle and a man. I am an American who deserves basic human rights and his freedom.”
“Instead, I feel as if I have been left behind. I ask you, Iran and those who read this letter, in particular the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei and the Minister of Intelligence Hojjatoleslam Alavi, to work to ensure my immediate release and return to my country of birth – The United States of America.”
A family spokesperson has confirmed that Amir has started a hunger strike after his lawyer’s latest attempts to free the Marine have apparently failed.
In July, Amir’s mother pleaded with President Obama “to remember Amir.”
“As you, Secretary Kerry and all the other hard-working Americans endeavor in what is no doubt painstaking and detailed work, please remember my Amir. He served his country during its times of peril and now needs his country to do the same for him,” wrote Behnaz Hekmati. “I know you have many challenges at hand, but I also know you read your letters every evening.”
“…I plead that you do not forget Amir, his service, his beautiful smile and his zeal for life.”
Amir took his case directly to Secretary of State John Kerry last year in a letter smuggled out of prison. After thanking Kerry for lobbying on his behalf, Amir stressed that the confessions on 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,” he continued. “The very same suffering that the 3 American hikers have recently suffered and many others by these unlawful tactics. My hope is that those individuals within the Iranian government who respect rule of law and international ethics will intervene in my case. As someone of Iranian heritage, I hope that the Iranian people will also support me and call on their government to respect my legal rights.”