Today marks four years since Iran seized Amir Hekmati and threw the decorated Marine veteran in Evin prison on false espionage charges.
Hekmati, born in Flagstaff, Ariz., after his parents left Iran in 1979, had been in a country for a couple of weeks visiting extended family for the first time. On Aug. 29, 2011, Amir called his mother to say he would be wrapping up the trip and coming home soon to Michigan.
Amir was due for a holiday gathering that evening. He never showed up. It wasn’t until four months later that the family received confirmation Amir was locked up in Evin. He was originally sentenced to death, which was later changed to 10 years behind bars for alleged “collaboration” with the United States.
“Today marks four years that our brother, son and American Marine veteran, Amir Hekmati, has been imprisoned in Iran. He traveled to Iran as a tourist to visit family, committed no crime, yet this nightmare continues. He received approval for his trip from Iranian authorities and was reassured that he would not be punished for his service in the marines,” the Hekmati family said in a statement today.
“Now he has suffered in an Iranian prison longer than any American in history. The urgency for Amir’s release now is great. Under the Iranian judicial system, Amir is eligible to be released for time served or pardoned. Amir’s father is battling brain cancer and has suffered several strokes. Time is not on our side. Amir is needed home to care for his family with our father in a wheelchair, requiring 24-hour care and assisted-living.”
Amir’s congressman, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), has been lobbying his colleagues these years to not forget the hostages in Iran.
“For the last 1,461 days, he has endured unimaginable treatment and detention. An American and a Marine, he is sadly now the longest held political prisoner in Iran,” Kildee said. “Through it all, the Hekmati family has shown tremendous strength despite being separated from their son and brother. The Hekmati family longs to have Amir home. For them, four years means missed moments with a loved one who continues to languish in a prison cell on the other side of the world. They continue to fight tirelessly for Amir’s release, and like me, won’t stop until he’s home.”
“Iran must act to release Amir and the other Americans it holds. Amir is innocent and needs to be reunited with his family in Michigan.”
Kildee and members of the Hekmati family were scheduled to speak at a rally today at Dunlop’s Downtown in Bay City, Mich.
By mid-day Saturday, the White House had not issued any statement on the grim anniversary. When asked about it at Friday’s press briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest said “I think the way that you could describe the administration is determined.”
“This is something that Secretary Kerry said that he raised every day, in the context of the nuclear negotiations, and — ‘in the context’ is not the right phrase. On the sidelines, but every day with his counterparts while he was trying to negotiate this nuclear agreement,” Earnest said. “Now, there are some who’ve raised questions about why Secretary Kerry didn’t include the case — or the plight — of these American citizens in the nuclear negotiations, and our response to that has been twofold.”
“The first is, as all of you know probably better than anybody else, it was not at all clear that we were gonna get successfully complete negotiations to reach a nuclear agreement, and so, including the case of these American citizens in the uncertain prospects of a diplomatic negotiation is not the best way to secure their release. The second thing, however, is the United States is not interested in making concessions for their release. We believe that these individuals are being unjustly detained, and — and should be released so that they can be reunited with their families immediately, and we’re gonna continue to — to press that case, and Secretary Kerry indicated as much in the written statement that he issued earlier today.”
In Kerry’s statement Friday, he said, “We repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Amir on humanitarian grounds.”
“The Hekmati family needs Amir – their brother, their son, their uncle – to be home where he belongs,” he added. “This is a milestone no family wants to mark, and the Hekmati family has shown inspiring perseverance in the face of this injustice. And as befits a former Marine, Amir has shown tremendous courage in the face of this unjust detention.”
After much pleading by the family for the president to say Amir’s name in public, President Obama finally did so in a wide-ranging speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in July.
Amir thanked his supporters last week in a message dictated from prison. “Had it not been for all of your support, it is possible that the outrageous death sentence I was given in 2011 would have been carried out. I’m convinced the only reason I’m alive and allowed to use the prison phone is your support and international outcry of my false imprisonment,” he said.
“My captors would have much preferred to keep my voice from being heard and have me remain in solitary confinement where I was buried away in miserable conditions for 18 months, where I witnessed many lose their health and sanity, where I was told I would be executed by hanging with no one to reach out to, and where I was not allowed even one minute to phone my father who was and still is fighting for his life with brain cancer.”
The Hekmati family again appealed to Iran to “send a strong signal to the international community” with Amir’s release.
“Our father is fighting to live to see his son once again while Amir fights for his freedom,” the Hekmati family said. “They are no longer the same men, but their bond has never waned. To Amir, we say, we love you. Your mother longs for your love, guidance and support to help her navigate this new chapter in her life. We pray for you. Be strong.”