By Farhad Pouladi, VOA
WASHINGTON- Americans from different walks of life and ethnic backgrounds celebrate Veterans Day, as they have for nearly a century since President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed the holiday at the end of World War I. But the picture is not so rosy for the Hekmatis, an Iranian-American family. Wednesday is the 1,535th day that Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine and decorated war veteran, has spent behind bars in Iran.
Amir grew up in the state of Michigan, where his parents still live. Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee, who has been very vocal in calling for the the release of Amir and other Americans imprisoned in Tehran, issued a videoand a written statement on Veterans Day, once again asking for their immediate release.
In his written statement, Representative Kildee said Amir is forced to “endure unimaginable conditions.”
“He is innocent and has suffered enough," the Michigan lawmaker wrote. "It is time for him to come home to Michigan. If Iran wants to be taken seriously in the global community, it cannot hold political prisoners like Amir Hekmati. Congress and the world are watching Iran’s actions. It must release Amir and the other innocent Americans it is holding."
Amir was arrested in August 2011, weeks after visiting his ancestral country to check on ailing relatives. He was tried on espionage charges and was initially sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to a 10-year prison sentence.
A sergeant in the 1st Marine Division, Amir served in the USMC from 2001 until 2005.
Amir’s family also issued a statement calling for him to be given a "weekend furlough,” and then released in accordance with Iranian law.
“After 1,535 days of turmoil, the family of American Amir Hekmati calls upon all interested parties to refocus on Amir’s case," his family wrote. "Amir has served more than four years now for a crime he did not commit; according to Iran’s judicial system, he is eligible for a release."
Referring to the agreement reached between Tehran and world powers restricting Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear program in exchange for a gradual lifting of the international restrictions, the family's statement added: "Amir has severe and recurring health issues and his father is dying. It is simply unacceptable, with the two countries now talking and implementing the nuclear agreement, that an American is being held in worse conditions than he was two years ago. These conditions have contributed to Amir’s health problems."
In August, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement calling on the Iranian government to release Amir "on humanitarian grounds.”
Kerry vowed not to “relent until we bring Amir home," adding: "I join the President in his steadfast commitment to reunite Amir with his family.”
He also called on the Iranian government "to release Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson, so that all can be returned to their families.”
Tehran detained Washington Post correspondent Rezaian, who was recently,convicted after an espionage trial, and Abedini, a pastor, who was convicted in 2013 of threatening Iran's security by holding religious gatherings in private homes in Iran. They, like Amir Hekmati, deny the charges against them.
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, disappeared in Iran in 2007, but his exact whereabouts remain unknown.
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