Family begs Iran to release man held for 555 days - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Family begs Iran to release man held for 555 days

AP AP

DETROIT (AP) - The family of a former U.S. Marine detained in Iran on espionage charges is begging for his freedom a year after his death sentence was overturned, saying Tuesday they only recently learned he went on a month-long hunger strike and was found unconscious.

Sarah Hekmati told The Associated Press that her family sent a letter to Iran's top leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for the release of her 29-year-old brother, Amir. Iran's Supreme Court ordered a retrial for him last March, but that hasn't happened, and he's now been detained for 555 days.

Iran accuses Amir Hekmati of spying for the CIA, but U.S. officials deny the claim and his family said he went to Iran in 2011 simply to visit his grandmothers. Amir Hekmati was born in Arizona and grew up in Michigan, where his parents and sister still live.

Sarah Hekmati said her brother "went through all the appropriate channels" in preparing for the trip, including disclosing to Iranian officials that he was a U.S. soldier.

She said the family recently learned he went on the hunger strike late last year to protest his solitary confinement.

"None of us knew about this until after the fact. He was found unconscious," said Sarah Hekmati, who spoke to the AP by phone along with her husband, Ramy Kurdi. "We don't know how much physical weight he's lost. We don't know if he passed out or what kind of impact there was ... or what kind of medical attention he received."

She said the letter, sent Tuesday, also begs for his release on humanitarian grounds, because their father is suffering from terminal brain cancer and their maternal grandmother was feeling incredible "stress and anguish."

"She only got to enjoy his company for two weeks," Sarah Hekmati said. "It's very painful - the stress of the unknown is affecting her health."

She added that she was "disheartened" when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wasn't familiar with her brother's case during his visit last fall to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly.

Others also have campaigned and written letters to Iranian leaders on Hekmati's behalf, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Family members held a silent demonstration in January outside Iran's U.N. mission in New York on the 500th day of his imprisonment.

Sarah Hekmati said she's trying to remain hopeful, as she was last year when the Iranian high court ordered the retrial after a prosecutor said "shortcomings in the case" had been found. That was followed by the Persian New Year in late March, when Iran has previously released prisoners, she said.

"Now we're a year later, dealing with the same anniversary date, the upcoming new year," she said. "We really feel we've tried every avenue to raise awareness."

__

Follow Jeff Karoub on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jeffkaroub

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

3/5/2013 5:49:45 PM (GMT -6:00)

  • Local NewsMore>>

  • Black and Gold Breakdown: Week 12 - Rams

    Black and Gold Breakdown: Week 12 - Rams

    FOX 8 GraphicFOX 8 Graphic

    It’s been 23 years since the Saints last journeyed westward to take on the Los Angeles Rams. The home team was in Anaheim then when the Saints scored a 31-15 victory. They’re back in L.A. now when the two meet as the two biggest surprises in the NFL.

    more>>

    It’s been 23 years since the Saints last journeyed westward to take on the Los Angeles Rams. The home team was in Anaheim then when the Saints scored a 31-15 victory. They’re back in L.A. now when the two meet as the two biggest surprises in the NFL.

    more>>
  • Man shot and killed in St. Claude neighborhood

    Man shot and killed in St. Claude neighborhood

    The New Orleans Police Department is investigating a homicide in the St. Claude neighborhood. 

    more>>

    The New Orleans Police Department is investigating a homicide in the St. Claude neighborhood. 

    more>>
  • Bourbon St. construction lingers on as tourism season kicks off with Bayou Classic

    Bourbon St. construction lingers on as tourism season kicks off with Bayou Classic

    It is one of New Orleans' most notable tourist attractions but with tens of thousands of people visiting for Bayou Classic this weekend, two blocks of the historic strip remain under construction for drainage repairs. 

    more>>

    It is one of New Orleans' most notable tourist attractions but with tens of thousands of people visiting for Bayou Classic this weekend, two blocks of the historic strip remain under construction for drainage repairs. 

    more>>
Powered by Frankly