Society & Culture

Former Marine May Be Eligible for Early Release

April 15, 2014
Azadeh Moaveni
5 min read
Amir with his niece and nephew
Amir with his niece and nephew
Amir with his father (left) and brother in law Ramy (middle) at a family barbecue
Amir with his father (left) and brother in law Ramy (middle) at a family barbecue
Amir with his nephew
Amir with his nephew
Amir with his mother
Amir with his mother
 Amir at an aquarium
Amir at an aquarium
Amir's nephew and niece
Amir's nephew and niece
Amir fishing with his grandmother on her first visit to Michigan. This was the last time he saw her before his trip to Iran in 2011.
Amir fishing with his grandmother on her first visit to Michigan. This was the last time he saw her before his trip to Iran in 2011.
Amir and his twin sister Leila
Amir and his twin sister Leila
Amir's niece Maya holding a Free Amir sign
Amir's niece Maya holding a Free Amir sign
Amir holding his nephew at an apple orchard
Amir holding his nephew at an apple orchard
Amir with his mother
Amir with his mother
Amir with his older sister Sarah
Amir with his older sister Sarah
Amir with his mother at his last Thanksgiving before he was captured in Iran
Amir with his mother at his last Thanksgiving before he was captured in Iran

Earlier this week the new lawyer for the former Iranian-American Marine imprisoned in Iran, Amir Hekmati, disclosed that the spying charges against his client had been overturned and that a court had instead sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabei, the new lawyer, is an influential and well-connected figure inside Iran, and the Hekmati family’s success in retaining him, together with news of the retrial, have together produced the first signs of movement in a case that has posed increasing friction between the United States and Iran.

There has been no formal confirmation of Hekmati’s December sentencing, and while his military profile as a Marine who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan throws up questions of security for the Iranian authorities, most of the legal proceedings around his case have been held in secret and, according to rights groups, without proper legal oversight and due process. Sarah Hekmati, Amir’s sister, talks here about the family’s latest news about his case and prospects for early release.

How did your family learn about Amir's re-sentencing? Have you been able to speak to him?

We learned about Amir's re-sentencing through our Attorney Mr. Tabatabei recently. He had been given an opportunity to view Amir's file in the presence of judicial officials but only for a short period of time. He was able to communicate with some judiciary officials that were able to confirm that Amir's sentence was final. We are unable to speak with Amir, he is not allowed to call his family in the US. He has been able to receive visits from our relatives in Iran and was recently visited by my uncle on the week before Eid nourouz and yesterday by my Aunt.

His attorney, Mr. Tabatabei, is known to have strong ties to senior officials. Are you encouraged by the fact that he has been permitted to represent Amir? Do you know what legal strategy he is now pursuing?

Mr. Tabatabei is someone that Amir requested for himself based on recommendations he had received. He requested in writing to no longer have Attorney Samadi as his attorney and instead to be given permission to have Mr. Tabatabaei as his attorney instead. We are pleased with Mr. Tabatabei's influence and ability to obtain the information he has about Amir's case. We are encouraged by the fact that he has not been denied as Amir's attorney however he is still not allowed to see Amir and has not been given full access to the content of Amir's file in order to provide an appropriate defense.

Has Mr. Tabatabai been able to meet with Amir?

No but he mentioned that he has been able to speak with him on a regular basis on the phone.

Can you remind us exactly how long Amir has been in prison, and whether under the country's 'good behaviour' early furlough policy, when he might be eligible for release?

Amir was captured on August 29, 2011. There are contradicting media reports coming from Iran that mention he was captured on December 17th 2011 which we have fought to have retracted but continue to be reported this way. According to Amir's attorney he would be eligible for release this coming September or October.

Your father is very ill, this is a blunt question, but how much time is there left for Amir to see him?

Our father's health is deteriorating and we have kept the news of the 10 year sentence from him because he recently suffered a stroke a week ago and is now wheelchair bound and in the hospital. He is unable to walk and feed himself. This was a man who was a successful college professor a year ago who was driving himself, teaching classes, doing research and very independent and now he needs help to do everything from walking, to eating to bathing himself. It is truly a testing situation for our family. I have attached a letter from my father's physician that we have used in Iran to appeal for Amir's defense.

There seems to be murmuring in Iran that a reciprocal gesture is needed from the United States to nudge things forward. Have you been in touch with your Congressional representative to push for some action on America's part?

We have urged our government and our Michigan representative to identify in their direct talks with Iran to identify what the "ask" is from the Iranian government. They respond that they raise his case with Iranian officials at every opportunity that arises during their discussions. As a family we recognize that Amir is a victim of the conflict between the US and Iran. We urge both governments to cooperate with one another to alleviate this grave misunderstanding. Amir is innocent, he has done nothing wrong. Which is why when Amir was given the death sentence in January of 2012 his sentence was annulled in March due to insufficient evidence. The sentencing in Iran is merely based on suspicion, his only crime was that he served in the US military which is why he is being charged with Practical Collaboration with the American Government. He is not being charged as a spy.

But were you not worried that as a former Marine Amir would pose security concerns to the Iranian government? From the outside, travelling to Iran with that profile seems very risky.

Under Iranian law serving a foreign military prior to obtaining Iranian citizenship is not against the law. Amir has only been a citizen of Iran for 2 weeks prior to his arrest in Iran. He was born and raised in the US and this was his first trip to Iran. This experience has left us traumatized as Iranian-American, because when Amir in good faith disclosed past military history to the Iranian Interests Section and asked whether it would pose a problem if he travelled to Iran and they said "no it would not." It has changed our impression of how we as Iranian Americans should be able to travel to Iran but cannot. Many of our Iranian American friends after seeing what has happened to Amir have decided that they will not travel to Iran. I myself have been to Iran two times in my life and had a wonderful experience and wished the same for Amir, but this was not the case for him due to the political climate and tensions between both governments. 

comments

Society & Culture

Women Photographers in the Ridiculous Censorship Zone

April 15, 2014
Mohammad Tangestani
4 min read
Women Photographers in the Ridiculous Censorship Zone