by Majid Rafizadeh
A US citizen’s first ever visit to see his aging grandparents and relatives quickly turned into his arrest and death sentence by the Islamic court of Iran. 31-year-old Amir Mirzae Hekmati, who was 28 at the time of the trip, had traveled to Iran to celebrate with his extended family in Tehran.
Before reaching Tehran, Hekmati called his mother Behnaz Hekmati, to tell her about his excitement about the trip, saying he would call her back when he got settled. But his mother never received another call. According to his mother, Amir’s computer, cell phone, and all of his IDs were taken away. That is when the excruciating ordeal for the Hekmati family began.
The irony is that Amir was born and raised in the United States, and he had no connection to the Islamic Republic other than being born to parents who left Iran for the U.S. in 1979— at the time when the Islamist state was created after the Islamic Revolution.
Amir’s father Ali, a professor of microbiology, was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, and the Hekmati family is imploring the Islamic Republic to release their son so he can see his ill father. His mother Behnaz pleaded with the Iranian government, “Please just let Amir come home… Amir didn’t commit any crime, he didn’t do anything. Just let him to come home and make his family happy again.”
His first trial did not go involve proper due process. It was neither a transparent nor fair trial. It was conducted in complete judicial secrecy, with Hektami convicted and sentenced to death for spying.
Hektami joined the US Marines, to serve this country and to offset the cost of college for his parents, according to his sister Sarah. Amir served as a translator and linguist. Sarah told America Tonight “[Anmir] never wanted to impose anything on my family… He loved traveling and he loved learning languages, and he felt like this was a good opportunity to experience that.”
Amir was coerced into false confession. He was taken into the most notorious prison in the Islamic Republic, Evin. Although he was kept in Evin for several months, the Islamic Guard denied that he was being held there. Even the United Nations and Pakistani Embassy, which has an Iranian Interests Section in Washington, DC, could not get a clear answer.
Some of the reasons that the Iranian Islamic guard does not permit anyone to contact a detainee is to keep the truth about the innocence of the person within the prison walls, threaten the person, impose miserable prison conditions like prolonged periods of solitary confinement, or draft a fabricated story and elicit a forced confession.
The Islamist state of Iran is well known for eliciting forced and false confessions through threats and other methods of torture.
The Iranian state TV broadcast Hekmati’s confession in this video. The confession was evidently forced, as his sister stated, “I barely recognized him… He looked like he lost 50 to 60 pounds, easily. And it seemed very forced and scripted. He was using words that I knew he didn’t know.”
It only took a couple of months to sentence this American ex-Marine to death. Iran’s Press TV reported that he was “tasked with carrying out a complex intelligence operation and infiltrating the Iranian intelligence apparatus.”
After many people, such as Terry Mahoney, a former Marine sergeant who has never met Amir, called for his release and held events, and after the issue drew international attention, the Islamic court overturned his conviction for espionage, and instead charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments” with 10 years in prison.
The Islamic Republic has long been playing this political game against the United States by arresting, torturing, imprisoning, and sentencing prisoners to death. Hektami is one of the few American citizens unjustly held in an Iranian prison. The Islamist Iranian authorities are being emboldened and now threatening to extend the prison time of Pastor Saeed Abedini for alleged crimes related to his faith and efforts as a Christian pastor. Reportedly, he suffered injuries and was beaten and yanked from a hospital bed to prison.
There is still no news of Robert Levinson, 65, a retired FBI agent, who vanished and suddenly disappeared in the Islamic Republic six years ago. He would be considered to be the longest-held American hostage ever. He is held by the Iranian intelligence services. The American hostages need a strong government to ensure that the Islamist state of Iran follows international laws. If the government does not cause the clerics to submit to the law, an advocacy and international campaign by ordinary citizens is required to spotlight these unlawful and inhumane acts committed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
These atrocities continue even under the presidency of Hassan Rouhani, the so-called moderate who is viewed as a reformist and a favorable political figure by the liberal media and the Obama administration.
The Obama administration continues its thaw with the Islamist state of Iran and has released billions of dollars to this Islamist government. These conciliatory actions have not yielded any positive changes in the attitude of the Islamic Republic — instead these moves have only emboldened the Islamist state to ignore the United States and continue its arrests, torture, death sentences, and threats against Americans and US interests.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Rafizadeh is a regular commentator for national and international outlets including CNN, BBC TV and radio, ABC, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, RT, CCTV and Aljazeera English. He is frequently quoted in major news outlets including CNN, BBC, Aljazeera and he regularly writes for both academic and non-academic papers such as New York Times International, Foreign Policy, Aljazeera, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The Atlantic, Newsweek, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, George Washington International Review, to name a few. Follow Dr. Rafizadeh at @majidrafizadeh.
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