Yellow Ribbon Project

State Department Report Takes Iran's Side on Citizenship of U.S. Hostage, Refuses to Name Americans


The State Department’s new Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 essentially supports Iran’s faulty reasoning for why the U.S. has no jurisdiction over the case of an American hostage.

The Iran section of the report also doesn’t refer to the U.S. hostages by name, though it names some Iranians who have likewise fallen victim to Iran’s judicial system.

“A dual citizen Christian pastor has been detained in Iran since September 2012 on charges related to his religious beliefs. According to public statements by the pastor’s family and international groups, he was not provided adequate medical treatment and his health further deteriorated in 2014,” the report says of Saeed Abedini.

“A dual citizen held in Evin Prison since 2011 and whose ‘confession’ was broadcast by state media during the same year remained in prison at year’s end. According to public statements from his family, he learned in April 2014 that a court had tried him and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. He has been denied access to consular visitation,” the report says of Amir Hekmati.

Hekmati, a decorated Marine veteran who served in the Iraq war, was born in the United States and is considered a dual citizen only by Iranian law as his father was born in Iran. He was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges.

As he knew Iran has been using this as a reason to tell the U.S. government they have no jurisdiction over the case, in March Hekmati wrote to the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., to make clear he is 100 percent American and renounce his Iranian citizenship.

“The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Mrs. Afkham, has stated that there are no Americans in Iran; however, it is precisely for the reason that I am American that I have been taken hostage by the Ministry of Intelligence and used as a political bargaining tool. Having been born in the US and having spent my entire life there, my citizenship status is clear,” he wrote.

“It has become very clear to me that those responsible view Iranian-Americans not as citizens or even human beings, but as bargaining chips and tools for propaganda. Considering how little value the Ministry of Intelligence places on my Iranian citizenship and passport, I, too, place little value on them and inform you, effective immediately, that I formally renounce my Iranian citizenship and passport,” the Marine continued.

“My Iranian heritage and affinity for the Iranian people will always be a part of me, but I wish to have no ties to an organization that places so little value on my human rights and dignity and is willing to destroy an entire family for simple propaganda purposes.”

Like Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was born in the U.S. but his father was born in Iran, so the Islamic Republic does not recognize him as an American citizen.

The Hekmati family has stressed that since Amir has renounced the citizenship of his heritage, he should be deported to the country of his birth, the only country he’s ever known and the country he served in wartime: the United States.

The State Department report also didn’t mention the torture Hekmati has endured while behind bars, though it did detail abuses suffered by various Iranian prisoners.

“Amir was forcibly given drugs, such as lithium, by prison officials. Officials would intentionally and abruptly stop this medication to induce a painful withdrawal response,” said a statement from family representatives in March. “During interrogations, an electric TASER was used on Amir’s kidneys several times, his feet were whipped with cables and he endured mental torture through threats, insults and humiliations. Amir was forced to watch the torture of other inmates.”

He “is housed with hardened criminals and drug dealers, he experiences recurring lung infections, his cell mates have lice, and he is surviving on a diet of only rice and lentils.”

At a briefing on the report today with Secretary of State John Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski was asked why Abedini and Hekmati were simply referred to as “dual citizens” in the report.

“We generally don’t mention American citizens by name when we mention them in this report,” Malinowski said.

“I think one reason for that is that the report cannot be a comprehensive listing of people, of individuals who are detained around the world under these circumstances. So what we try to do is to use the stories of the cases to illustrate larger human-rights problems,” he said. “And so that really is the main point of naming them in the first place, to talk about the pattern in Iran or others, in other countries, of detaining people unjustly for reporting stories or the peaceful exercise of their opinions.”

However, the Cuba section of the report does name U.S. citizen Alan Gross, who was released from custody in December after five years behind bars.