Last year, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) kept his guest seat open at the State of the Union address to represent his constituent held prisoner by Iran.
This year, with Amir Hekmati today marking Day 1,592 in Iranian custody, Kildee announced that his guest seat for Tuesday’s address will be filled by Amir’s sister, Sarah Hekmati.
Amir, born in Flagstaff, Ariz., was visiting extended family for the first time in August 2011 when he was seized and sentenced on trumped-up espionage charges. Kildee represents the Hekmati family’s home district in Michigan.
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. Marine colleagues have symbolically joined Amir in rolling hunger strikes out of Semper Fi solidarity.
Each member of Congress is allowed to bring one guest to the annual State of the Union.
“Amir Hekmati has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly 1,600 days. It is long past time for Iran to release him so he can be reunited with his family in Michigan,” Kildee said. “Having Sarah join me at the State of the Union will serve as an important reminder of Amir’s continued imprisonment and the pain their family continues to endure.”
“We continue to press for his release and do everything we can to bring him home.”
Kildee was able to catch President Obama on the House floor for a brief moment at last year’s speech to press Amir’s case. Obama’s response: “I’m working on it.”
He was also able to speak with Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Ambassador Samantha Power.
The congressman sent a letter to Obama last year asking that Amir’s name be brought up during the primetime address. The president did not.
Kildee is renewing that request this year.
“It is important that Amir and the other innocent Americans being held not be forgotten,” Kildee said in a statement. “They should be household names in America – we must say their names as often as we can. The State of the Union address would be an opportunity to articulate the importance of Iran releasing these innocent Americans. Doing so would be a tangible demonstration by Iran that it is serious about rejoining the global community.”
The House unanimously approved a Kildee resolution this past summer demanding that Iran “release all detained Americans immediately and provide any information it possesses regarding any Americans that have disappeared within its borders.”
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has reported from Tehran since 2008, was seized on July 22, 2014, in a raid on his home.
Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini was convicted in January 2013 of establishing Christian house churches while in the country to set up a government-sanctioned orphanage.
Former FBI agent Bob Levinson went missing off the coast of Iran in March 2007 while working as a private investigator. Levinson’s family later received images of him in captivity, though the Iranian government has maintained they don’t know who is holding him.
Since the Iran nuclear deal was inked last year, two more Americans have been arrested by Iran: IT expert Nizar Zakka and businessman Siamak Namazi.
Sarah Hekmati noted today that Amir “has been punished for four-and-a-half agonizing years for serving his country.” He was assured by Iranian authorities before his trip that his military service wouldn’t post a problem, then was seized just before he planned to return home to the United States.
His father, Ali, is suffering from brain cancer.
“His health and our father’s health are dire. 2016 needs to be the year he is released,” Sarah said. “We urge immediate action.”