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Michigan lawmaker urges Iran to free Flint man

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — As Congress prepared to debate a final nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee called on Iran to release Amir Hekmati of Flint and other Americans in custody as a demonstration of its seriousness that it “truly intends to rejoin the global community.”

“I am here to make it clear that the Congress of the United States and the American people are watching the Iranian government. If in fact Iran intends, as they purport to do, to try to take steps to join the international community, they cannot hold Americans like Amir Hekmati as political prisoners,” Kildee, the Flint Township Democrat, said Tuesday on the House floor.

“It is important that we not let this case fade into the woodwork.”

Hekmati, 31, was born in Arizona and raised in Flint. Iran has imprisoned him for 1,314 days, accusing him of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Authorities arrested Hekmati during a 2011 trip to visit his grandmothers, sentencing Hekmati to death for spying. Iran’s Supreme Court annulled the sentence but then convicted him of “cooperating with hostile governments,” sentencing him to 10 years’ imprisonment. The U.S. government has denied that Hekmati is a spy, and he denies any wrongdoing.

Kildee said for Iran to use Hekmati as a “chip” in a geopolitical struggle “is beyond the pale and cannot be accepted.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday was expected to debate legislation by Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, that would give Congress power to review and potentially reject a final nuclear deal with Iran.

Kildee said he supports the direction that the Obama administration has taken in creating a political framework through nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran.

“It is very difficult for many of us in Congress, especially for those few of us who represent those few Americans being held in an Iranian prison, to view this agreement other than through the lens of that experience,” Kildee said. “We need to keep the pressure on.”

He encouraged members of Congress and others to take to social media using the hashtag #FreeAmir. He also spoke of other Americans in Iranian custody including Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, and Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho.

“We know the Iranian government does pay attention to what the American people think,” said Kildee, whose district includes the area where Hekmati’s parents live.

“Join me in continuing to raise your voices to make sure not one day passes, especially in this period when we’re considering this potentially historic agreement, not one day passes where Amir Hekmati, Jason Rezaian, Pastor Abedini, that their cases, their names, are never forgotten.”

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