NewsIran: World PressEx-Marine Says Iranians Want a Swap to Free Him

Ex-Marine Says Iranians Want a Swap to Free Him

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Source: The New York Times

The Michigan family of a former Marine incarcerated for more than three years in Iran has been receiving telephone calls and emails from that country proposing prisoner swaps for Iranians held in the United States, he said in a letter to Iran’s president made public by his relatives on Tuesday.

Source: The New York Times

The Michigan family of a former Marine incarcerated for more than three years in Iran has been receiving telephone calls and emails from that country proposing prisoner swaps for Iranians held in the United States, he said in a letter to Iran’s president made public by his relatives on Tuesday.

The former Marine, Amir Hekmati, 31, said that he and his family had rejected the idea of such exchanges. He reiterated his contention that he is innocent and should be released.

The letter also disclosed previously unpublicized details of Mr. Hekmati’s confinement in Evin Prison in Tehran — including assertions of isolation in a 3-foot-by-3-foot cell for the first four months, and starvation and deception by Iranian officials — that the family had known but kept private.

“My family endured the most painful and horrific four months of their lives, wondering what became of me,” he wrote in the letter, addressed to President Hassan Rouhani of Iran.

It was the latest in a series of steps taken by Mr. Hekmati and his relatives to focus attention on his case, which has festered into another serious irritant in the estranged relationship between Iran and the United States.
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Last month, Mr. Hekmati — despondent over the apparent paralysis in his appeal, his ailing father in the United States and the poor conditions at Evin Prison — began a hunger strike, but suspended it after Iranian officials assured him that his case would be revisited.

He was originally sentenced to death on an espionage conviction, but the verdict was overturned. He was then convicted of aiding a hostile country, meaning the United States, and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Mr. Hekmati and his advocates have said that they believe his case is purely political. But his disclosure that others in Iran have been contacting his family to propose prisoner exchanges had not been reported.

Family members declined to identify any of the Iranian inmates in the United States. A State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said officials were aware of reports that Mr. Hekmati had written recently to Iran’s president, but declined to comment on the specifics of the letter or any conversations held with Mr. Hekmati’s family.

The Obama administration has repeatedly called on Iran to release Mr. Hekmati and other Americans held in the country.

“For the past three years, my family has been receiving emails and phone calls from individuals within Iran proposing prisoner exchanges, even going as far as asking my family to lobby publicly for the release of these individuals,” Mr. Hekmati wrote.Considering I have committed no crime and have no connections to these individuals, my family and I fail to see why we should have to lobby for their release or why I should have to spend the next 10 years in prison.”

There has been repeated speculation about possible prisoner exchanges to free Mr. Hekmati. American officials have denied that any discussion of such exchanges has occurred. But Iranian officials have made it clear that they believe an unspecified number of Iranian inmates in the United States should be released.

The ordeal of Mr. Hekmati, an American of Iranian descent from Flint, Mich., who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, began after he went to visit his extended family in Iran for the first time in August 2011. He was seized soon after he arrived in Tehran.

His relatives said the letter, in English, had been dictated by phone and given to Mr. Hekmati’s Tehran lawyer this week to be sent to the president. It was unclear on Tuesday whether the letter had been delivered.

It was the first time that Mr. Hekmati, who has written to other top Iranian officials, had appealed directly to Mr. Rouhani. Mr. Hekmati has also written to Obama administration officials.

In a statement about the letter, Mr. Hekmati’s family said it was “deeply disturbed and shaken” by revelations regarding Mr. Hekmati’s treatment and conditions in Evin Prison.

Despite assurances from prison officials that Mr. Hekmati had not been harmed, the statement said, “it is clear that his recent appeals to both U.S. and Iranian government officials are a cry for help.”

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