The president is calling on Iran to release Americans imprisoned in the country, including a Marine veteran who has been held there for more than three years.
President Barack Obama released a statement Friday urging Iranian authorities to release Amir Hekmati, a former sergeant who served in the Iraq War, along with fellow captives Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian. The latter is a Washington Post reporter, the former a religious prisoner, according to the president's message.
Obama linked his statement to Nowruz, an Islamic holiday.
"It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year," he said. "Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran."
Hekmati, an Iranian-American, was arrested in August 2011 during a trip to visit relatives. Iranian authorities Iranian authorities have held Hekmati, an Iraq War veteran and former sergeant, for more than three years. They originally called him a spy, but later revamped the charges. Eventually, they accused the one-time Marine of aiding a hostile nation — the U.S.nited States. It's a charge U.S. officials and his family flatly reject.
Hekmati traveled to that country to visit relatives. He languishes, allegedly, in intolerable conditions in one of Iran's most infamous prisons. His family alleges that his feet have been whipped, he has been drugged and is subject to psychological abuse, according to a statement released Tuesday.
Hekmati's father is battling brain cancer. His family accuses the Iranian government of also telling the one-time Marine his mother died in an automobile accident as a form of punishment.
Hekmati's congressman sought to make the Marine's plight more public earlier this year, setting aside a seat at Obama's State of the Union Address for a guest who would not make the event barring a diplomatic breakthrough. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., applauded the president's statement.
"Amir is an American citizen who has done nothing wrong, yet continues to languish in an Iranian prison," Kildee said. "If Iran is serious about rejoining the international community, they must release [Hekmati] so that he can be reunited with his ailing father and the rest of his family in Michigan."
To raise awareness of Hekmati's circumstances, fellow veteran Marines went on a symbolic hunger strike late last year. Dozens volunteered to go without food for 24-hours to coincide with a hunger strike the former sergeant initiated to protest his living conditions.
Hekmati denounced his Iranian citizenship earlier this week, according to a letter provided by his family. He cited his love of the country's culture as well as his heritage, but critiqued the lack of respect he had received since being taken hold of Iranian officials.
"… [It] has become very clear to me that those responsible [for my imprisonment] view Iranian-Americans not as citizens or even human beings, but as bargaining chips and tools for propaganda," Hekmati reportedly wrote.
His family took the opportunity to highlight Hekmati's alleged poor living conditions in the hopes he might be released soon.