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Families of 4 Americans held in Iran urge Congress to help

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Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini was arrested for setting up churches in Iran.

Amir Hekmati went to Iran in 2011 to visit his grandmother, and he never came home. The former U.S. marine was arrested and accused of spying by the Iranian government.

He was sentenced to death for espionage, making him the first American to be sentenced to death by Iran since 1979, though the country’s Supreme Court overturned the sentence and ordered a retrial.

“Imagine knowing that he has been tortured, mistreated, and abused. Imagine the birthdays and holidays that pass with an empty chair at the table,” Amir’s sister Sarah Hekmati told members of Congress on Tuesday. “This has been our life for nearly four years.”

She was one of the siblings, spouses and children of four Americans detained in Iran who urged the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to help secure their immediate release.

In addition to Hekmati, they represented a former FBI agent who vanished in Iran eight years ago; a Christian pastor arrested for organizing underground churches, and a journalist jailed for alleged espionage.

“No family should ever have to go through what we all are going through,” said Daniel Levinson, whose father Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, vanished in Iran’s Kish Island in 2007, making him the longest-held hostage in American history.

“To say these past eight years and three months have been a nightmare would be an understatement,” Daniel Levinson said. “He is an American, and America should not rest until one of its own is returned home to the family that loves him more than life itself.”

AN APRIL 11, 2013 FILE PHOTOVahid Salemi/AP

Jason Rezaian, an Iranian-American correspondent for the Washington Post, was arrested for espionage.

The others made similar pleas as they recounted heartbreaking struggles to secure their loved ones’ release.

The Iranian government detained Christian pastor Saeed Abedini in the summer of 2012, while preaching and organizing churches in Iran. Six months later, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, ostensibly for undermining national security.

His wife, Nagameh Abedini, said Iranian officials have told Abedini, who converted to Christianity, he can go free if he denounces his new faith and returns to his Muslim roots.

Imagine knowing that he has been tortured, mistreated, and abused. Imagine the birthdays and holidays that pass with an empty chair at the table. This has been our life for nearly four years.

“Saeed has refused to deny his faith in Jesus Christ in the face of torture and abuse,” she said. “He had been put in a murderers’ ward where he was told that if other prisoners found out that he was a convert from Islam to Christianity, they would kill him.”

Jason Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, was arrested last July  — initially on unspecified charges, and later for espionage.

“Jason is innocent of all the charges against him,” his brother Ali Rezaian said at the hearing. “Jason is a dedicated journalist, who was committed to closely following the established rules about reporting in Iran and was licensed by the Iranian government to do so. It is true that Jason wrote from time to time about Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, but this is perfectly lawful conduct that is typical of many credentialed journalists in Iran.”


Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was sentenced to death on accusations of spying for the CIA.

He continued: “What Jason did is recognized the world over as simply practicing journalism.”

Sarah Hekmati, explained that her parents moved from Iran to the U.S. to provide their children with more opportunities. The family settled in Michigan and were taught to be proud of both their American home and their Iranian heritage, she said.

“It breaks my heart that my children’s only frame of reference for Iran is that the Iranians hurt the uncle they love and that they badly want to see again,” she explained. “Iran is the country of my parent’s birth, and as a family we were always raised to be proud of our Iranian heritage.”

Hekmati, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and was a decorated combat veteran when left the Marine Corps, in 2005, was the first American to be sentenced to death by Iran since 1979.

Unlike the other three hostages, Iran has never acknowledged arresting Levinson.

In the eight years he has been detained, Robert Levinson missed the birth of three grandchildren, two weddings and his 40th wedding anniversary, Daniel Levinson noted.

His son said the family is worried about their father’s health: At 67 years old, he has diabetes, hypertension and gout.

“Our family’s hearts break for the other families here, who have suffered the wrenching agony of having their loved ones away from them for so long all of these years,” Daniel Levinson said in written testimony. “Yet my father has been held 4½ years longer than any of the others.”




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Nation / World – NY Daily News

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