WASHINGTON -- In the three years since U.S. Marine Corps veteran Amir Hekmati was jailed in Iran under an opaque judicial process, his family has turned to Congress, the Obama administration and well-wishers to advocate on his behalf. Now, they have a message for his captors.
Speaking with The Huffington Post Wednesday, Hekmati's brother-in-law explained why the family believes Iran should immediately release Hekmati, a resident of Flint, Michigan:
"The family is struggling. His father has terminal cancer. He's debilitated by a stroke. His mother provides 24-hour care. And we've really relied on the support of the community, and we're trying our best to create awareness, but respectfully our key is that we're not a political family. Our message to Iran is we respectfully request his release -- and unconditionally, based on human rights, there's multiple outlets within their legal system to release him and we ask them to do that."
Ramy Kurdi, who is married to Hekmati's sister Sarah, was in Washington for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Tuesday to draw attention to the plight of Hekmati, 31, and three other Americans held by Iran: Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, the Rev. Saeed Abedini and retired FBI agent Bob Levinson. The committee advanced a resolution sponsored by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) -- Hekmati's representative in Congress -- calling for the release of the four prisoners. It is likely to be taken up by the full House in the coming weeks.
Kildee told HuffPost the resolution is meant to send another message to Iran: that Congress won't allow its partisan divisions to stand in the way of expressing concern over Americans' treatment in Iranian captivity. That effort at bipartisanship is one reason why supporters of the resolution have avoided directly linking it to the nuclear negotiations with Iran that congressional Republicans have blasted for months.
Kildee laid out two other reasons why the resolution avoids overt references to a potential nuclear deal with Iran. "I wouldn't want to condition Amir's freedom on the success of negotiations that may not succeed," he said, referring to the June 30 deadline for an agreement with the U.S., five other world powers and Tehran. "Even if they do succeed, Amir himself -- no American, including Amir Hekmati -- would want his freedom to be exchanged for increased nuclear capabilities in the hands of the Iranian government."
Still, the question of Iran's potential re-entry to the global community cannot help but be a factor. Kildee made clear that he believes Iran cannot fully engage with the world if it continues to imprison Americans.
Hekmati has been held by Iran since he was picked up by authorities during a visit to family there in August 2011. He was initially sentenced to death on charges of being a spy, but the charge was later reduced to aiding a hostile government, for which he received a 10-year sentence.
Kurdi said Hekmati's condition has improved marginally since he was first jailed in a cell measuring one meter by one meter, but remains dire, according to brief, regular phone conversations with him monitored by Iranian prison authorities.
"He's lost some heart in being released," Kurdi said.
Hekmati is the longest-held American prisoner in Iran.
Learn more about Hekmati's case and efforts to secure his release by watching HuffPost's video interview with his brother-in-law and congressman above.