Yellow Ribbon Project

Marine Vet Held by Iran Begins 'Heartbreaking' Third Hunger Strike

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U.S. hostage Amir Hekmati’s nephew, Sami, shows his escape plan to Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday as his dad, Ramy Kurdi, points out the details

A Marine veteran held by Iran for 1,345 days has undertaken another hunger strike to protest his continued detention over trumped-up espionage charges.

Amir Hekmati’s last hunger strike was “reluctantly and temporarily” put on hold this past December upon promises from Iranian officials that his case would be “revisited by appropriate Iranian government authorities.” That hasn’t happened.

Born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and a resident of Flint, Mich., Amir served in the Iraq War and was honorably discharged as a sergeant in 2005. He was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War of Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. The 31-year-old was seized by Iranian authorities on a 2011 trip to visit extended family, before he was due to start economics studies at the University of Michigan.

The Hekmati family said in a statement today:

Citing the politicization of his imprisonment by Iran and the poor prison conditions in which he is being unjustly held, our son and brother, American and Marine veteran Amir Hekmati, has informed us he has begun a hunger strike. Amir went to Iran to visit his grandmother. He committed no crime by visiting Iran and he committed no crime while inside Iran’s borders. It has become increasingly clear to Amir that his imprisonment and the conditions of his release are being connected to the nuclear talks by some politicians within Iran. This is especially apparent when the Iranian Supreme Court was scheduled to hear Amir’s case until the nuclear talks were extended in November. Despite promises in December that his case would be revisited by officials within Iran, there has been no progress made and these promises have gone unfulfilled.

The conditions of Amir’s imprisonment have deteriorated in recent months. His basic needs are no longer being met. Not only is he housed with violent and hardened criminals, subject to blackouts of electricity, fed a diet of only lentils and rice, and has battled continuous infections due to no heat in the winter months in Iran, Amir reports that the little food they are fed is filled with parasites and his prison ward is infested with rats.

It breaks our hearts to know our brother has suffered through torture, abuse, and mistreatment for committing no crime. It hurts us even more knowing that he is risking solitary confinement for choosing to starve himself in hope that action will finally be taken and his case will finally move forward and he will be one day closer to coming home and being reunited with our family.

For decades, third parties were forced to act as intermediaries between the United States and Iran because no diplomatic relations existed. Even without diplomatic relations, previously held Americans did not spend as long in prison as Amir nor did they experience the treatment in prison Amir has been forced to endure. Amir has been held longer than any American in Iran in history. Amir was also the first American sentenced to death in three decades. We ask that as the United States and Iran sit across from one another, now communicating directly on diplomatic matters, that these two countries work diligently and continuously to bring Amir home to family.

Amir’s Marine brothers volunteered to fast in solidarity during his last hunger strike, and Marines indicated on social media today that they were already engaging in fasting days to stand with Amir. This is Amir’s third hunger strike in Iranian custody, the first being in 2012.

Vice President Joe Biden met with the Hekmati family Sunday in Detroit. The family has expressed frustration that President Obama has never spoken about Amir in public and concern that the White House is not pressing Amir’s case after more than three and a half years. They were on Capitol Hill last week imploring lawmakers to help.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that “when considering how best to secure the release of these individuals, a calculation is made about the wisdom of the publicity that surrounds the efforts to secure their release.”

The Hekmatis have a new champion in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who met with the family in their hometown of Flint, Mich., on Monday. “The president of the United States hasn’t even spoken his word — the word of his name publicly, while he’s talked about others who are being held,” Walker said.

He tweeted a photo with Amir’s sister Sarah and mother Behnaz. A family spokesperson said Walker “asked to meet with the family to learn more Amir, his imprisonment, and efforts that have been made by the campaign for his release.”

Biden also tweeted for Amir after meeting with the family. Amir’s young nephew, Sami, shared with Biden his plan to free his uncle: his dad pokes the guard in the eye, Sami grabs the key, unlocks the cell and flees with his Uncle Amir.