Kerry renews call for Iran to free Michigan ex-Marine

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday repeated his call for the Iranian government to release a former Marine from Flint on humanitarian grounds, as the 32-year-old marks the fourth year of his imprisonment this weekend.

“This Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his relatives in Iran,” Kerry said in a statement.

“As President Obama said recently in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we are not going to relent until we bring Amir home. I join the president in his steadfast commitment to reunite Amir with his family.”

Kerry also called on Iran to release three other U.S. citizens imprisoned or missing in Iran: Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho; Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California; and former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared eight years ago from the resort island of Kish.

Both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate have passed unanimous resolutions this year urging Iran to release the Americans.

But U.S. Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, questioned why the Obama administration didn’t require the release of the Americans before the nuclear talks began. Trott, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is among the Michigan Republicans planning to vote against the Iran nuclear deal.

Trott told a meeting of the Detroit News editorial board Thursday that “if I’m negotiating, the first thing I would have said: ‘Before we negotiate anything, let’s get one thing straight — you’re going to release the four Americans, right? That’s going to happen before we talk about anything, right?’ ”

Hekmati was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. He traveled to Iran to visit his grandmothers and was there nearly three weeks before authorities arrested, tried and sentenced him to death for spying. The sentence was later tossed out, but he was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. U.S. officials have repeatedly denied Hekmati is a spy.

Family members note that Hekmati received approval for his trip from Iranian authorities in advance and was reassured he would not be punished for his service in the Marines.

Family members recently posted on Facebook an audio recording of Hekmati speaking by phone this month from Evin prison in Iran, thanking advocates for their help during the last four years.

“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,” Hekmati says.

“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. ... My morale has never faltered after all these years because I know I am not alone.”

Supporters are planning a rally for Hekmati on Saturday afternoon at Dunlop’s Downtown in Bay City.

“Amir’s release would send a strong signal to the international community, as the United States and Iran seek to improve relations and Iran seeks to re-enter the family of nations,” the Hekmati family said in a statement.

“We hold on to hope that this will be the last month we all endure this separation, and that another month will not come to pass without Amir’s return home. ... Four years is too long.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, for months has pushed for the release of the four U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran, saying their freedom should not be a condition of the negotiated nuclear agreement between Iran and the United States and other world powers, which Kildee supports.

Kildee says Hekmati is now the longest held political prisoner in custody in Iran, and that he “won’t stop until he’s home.”

“Amir is innocent and needs to be reunited with his family in Michigan,” Kildee said in a statement.

The White House has said negotiators had conversations with Iranian officials about the detained Americans on the sidelines of the nuclear talks and that the pending deal is an important opportunity for Iran to free the Americans. Their release is not a condition of the agreement.

(202) 662-8736


What: Rally to mark the four-year anniversary of Amir Hekmati’s imprisonment in Iran

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Dunlop’s Downtown, 521 Washington Ave. in Bay City