Sarah Hekmati, left, is working to raise awareness in Washington about her brother and former Marine sergeant, Amir, right, being held in an Iranian prison. (Courtesy of FreeAmir.org)
WASHINGTON — A Michigan congressman on Thursday asked Secretary of State John Kerry to make the release of a Flint, Mich., man held in captivity in Iran for nearly two years a top priority.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat from Flint Township, made the request to prioritize efforts to secure the release of Amir Hekmati in a letter signed by more than 100 members of the U.S. House, including the 14 members from Michigan.
Hekmati, 29, a former Marine, was arrested in 2011 by Iranian authorities while visiting his grandmother. He was accused of espionage, charges the U.S. government and the Hekmati family deny.
His family said Hekmati went to Iran to visit his two grandmothers who live there and was taken by force during the third, and final, week of his visit. He appeared on video about four months later in Iranian custody, and since then, his family has been working to secure his release.
In the short letter to Kerry, Kildee said that Hekmati’s father has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and that it is imperative that Hekmati be released to help care for his family.
“We appreciate that this is a delicate matter, but all faiths and cultures can agree that families, particularly during times of illness, deserve to be together,” the letter said. “Please explore all opportunities to reunite Mr. Hekmati with his ailing father, mother and sisters.”
The letter said that, according to the New York Times, conditions for Hekmati have improved lately. Kildee said he is “optimistic that during Ramadan, a time of peace, family and compassion, we can work to reunite Amir with his family.”
A court sentenced Hekmati to death in January 2012, but Iran’s Supreme Court overturned that sentence and ordered a retrial in March of that year.
Hekmati, who served as a rifleman and informal interpreter in the Marines, was deployed to Iraq for six months in 2004.
Contributing: Elisha Anderson, Detroit Free Press