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Society & Culture

US Prisoner: Nuclear Talks Have Prevented my Release

December 18, 2014
7 min read
Amir with his older sister Sarah
Amir with his older sister Sarah
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 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 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
Amir's nephew and nice
Amir's nephew and nice

Amir Hekmati, an Iranian American and former US Marine, is in his fourth year of incarceration at Evin Prison in Iran. Hekmati began a hunger strike last week to protest at his imprisonment and, in an IranWire exclusive, he has written a letter to Sadegh Ardeshir Amoli Larijani, head of Iran’s judiciary, and Mahmoud Alavi, the Minister of Intelligence, appealing for their assistance.

On December 23, a family spokeperson provided the following update:

"The Hekmati family has learned that Amir Hekmati has agreed to suspend his hunger strike, reluctantly and temporarily. Apparently, Evin Prison officials have implored Amir to end his hunger strike. Evin Prison officials, in return, said they would take certain steps to have his case revisited by appropriate Iranian government authorities.

Amir and the Hekmati family deeply appreciate all of those who have joined Amir in solidarity.  All of those who are helping to free Amir.  The family, particularly Amir’s ailing father, is deeply moved by the thousands that have joined the campaign.

Amir has indicated that he will resume his hunger strike if real action is not taken on his case with real results.

Three years is too long.  Amir Hekmati is innocent."

The letter below follows another letter, addressed to President Barack Obama.

Hekmati went to Iran in 2011 to visit his grandmother and other relatives – but he was soon arrested on charges of espionage. Hekmati and his family insist that the charges are baseless.

He was convicted and sentenced to death a year after his arrest. The ruling was later overturned, and Hekmati is now serving a 10-year sentence for “cooperating with hostile governments,” while a panel of judges reviews his case before a retrial.

But progress has been slow. Hekmati has been told by Evin officials that his case is tied to the ongoing nuclear negotiations between the West and Iran. The recent extension of talks, from this past November to summer 2015, have left Hekmati feeling hopeless and powerless.

Hekmati hopes that his letters to senior Iranian and US officials will focus new attention on his case. As stated above, he intends to resume his hunger strike if real action on his case is not taken.

Hekamati’s sister Sarah spoke to IranWire about her brother’s hunger strike, his concerns that nuclear talks are holding up his release, and the toll his imprisonment has taken on his family.



What is the latest news?

The latest news is that since the extension of the nuclear negotiations (between the West and Iran), Amir has had less hope and more disappointment. Last November we heard that the nuclear negotiations were extended. Amir was told about this, and he was frustrated. He’s become concerned that the future of his case is tied to the nuclear negotiations.


Is he guessing that the case is tied to the negotiations, or he knows it for sure?

People say that.


People within the Iranian government?




Prison officials.


The same people who are holding Amir?



Who is holding Amir? Is it the Ministry of Intelligence or the Revolutionary Guards?

He believes that he’s being held by the Ministry of Intelligence. But I don’t know for sure.


Is Amir still in solitary confinement or is he in a communal cell?

He is in a communal cell. A raid happened in Evin Prison in April 2014. Amir was there when it happened. Thankfully he wasn’t among the prisoners who were taken to solitary cells or to the hospital. But all prisoners were collectively punished, and Amir was moved to another ward with poor hygiene. A ward where power goes off frequently and there are blackouts. Right now it’s winter, but there is no heat and no gas. It is very cold.


Who are the other people in his ward?

Criminals and drug dealers. When he was moved, Amir told my mom that it’s okay, that he’s been moved to a better place with other white-collar professionals. He didn’t want to terrify her, and let my mom know that he’s amongst quarantined prisoners.


Your parents live in the US, but you have relatives in Iran. Has Amir been given furlough, like many other prisoners, to visit his relatives?

No, because they are not immediate family. They’ve been allowed to visit him in prison. But the process is very difficult for the relatives to go and visit him.


Have you, your mother or your father visited Amir since he was in prison?

My mom went to Iran in January 2012, when he was sentenced to death. The second time she visited was in March 2012, when the death sentence was reversed by the Supreme Court of Iran.


How are your parents taking all this? It must be quite a stressful time for them.

It is so devastating, psychologically and emotionally. My dad has his cancer treatment. He’s suffered two strokes. He has to have full-time, round the clock care. He needs constant supervision, so that he doesn’t fall. That consumes a lot of my mom’s energy and she cannot focus on bringing her son back home.


Do you think your father suffered the strokes because of what Amir is going through?

Absolutely. We actually hide a lot of things from him. My father has no idea that Amir has gone on hunger strike. We try to keep him away from the news, and we try to keep his hopes up.


Did you meet with Iranian officials when President Rouhani was in New York last September?

We were in contact with them over the phone, we had requested a meeting with them. They said they would work on setting up a meeting and they did arrange one for us, but it wasn’t a time I could stay in New York and meet with anybody. They shared our concern with officials in Iran. We did give them letters addressed to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Rouhani.


Do you know what happened to the letters?

We don’t know exactly what happened.


What is Amirs legal status now?

He has been sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment on charges of cooperating with an enemy government. Amir’s attorney in Iran said that this case was under consideration for review, and there might be a retrial. It was unclear what was going to happen, but there was a panel of judges who were moving forward and reviewing his case. This was at the end of September or early October. We waited but we didn’t hear anything. After the extension of the nuclear talks on November 24 to summer 2015, Amir began to feel really hopeless. He felt that there was interference with his legal process internally.

Who is his lawyer in Iran?

Dr. Mahmoud Tabatabaei. Amir was appointed a government attorney from the time he was sentenced to death until recently. We tried to hire other attorneys, and because of the nature of defending an American prisoner, and due to their own unwillingness, they were not able to help us. Some were willing to go forward and represent Amir, but were not given access to his files. So we were offered no choice but this government attorney, Samadi, who we worked with. Amir found out that he was sentenced to 10 years while he was represented by this government-appointed attorney. Amir was not present in any kind of hearing to defend himself. Then he heard about Dr. Tabatabaei and asked to be represented by him.


As you know, Tabatabaei is very close to former president and key Rouhani ally Hashemi Rafsajani. Tabatabaei must have some sort of communication through Rafsajani with the Rouhani government about Amir. From what you can tell, how has Rouhanis administration responded to Amirs case?

We know that Rouhani is trying to resolve the case. The attorney and the US government communicates with Rouhani’s government. We know that the president of Iran and Iran’s foreign ministry are trying to reach a resolution in Amir’s case.


Has Tabatabaei explained why Amirs case has not been solved yet?

I can’t speak on behalf of him. All I know is that Tabatabaei knows that there is interference. He knows that there was movement in Amir’s case to go to the Supreme Court and it did not happen. But he doesn’t want to lose hope. He says that he is still going to appeal to the president’s office and try to find a way to give Amir amnesty, or pardon him. He says there are different options on the table.


When did Amir start his hunger strike?

Two days ago, in the morning, he called us, and said that he was fed up and tired. He was feeling hopeless, and that he decided he was going on hunger strike. I tried to talk him out of it. During these three years, nothing’s happened. He said that he felt there’s some interference because of the nuclear negotiations being extended. He really wants help to appeal for his case. He wants to be able to come home and see his dad. This is very difficult for him.


Have you talked to him recently?

He called my mom yesterday. He said that they’d put him in solitary if he continues with the hunger strike.


Read Amir Hekmati's Letter to Two Senior Iranian Officials.



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