SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – The family of a former Marine imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran was using Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to New York to address U.N. General Assembly to renew their pleas for his release.
The family of Amir Hekmati, who was arrested while visiting his grandmothers in Iran in August 2011, held a news conference with the Council for Islamic-American Relations in suburban Detroit in which they appealed to Iran to release Hekmati on humanitarian grounds. Hekmati's father was diagnosed last week with an inoperable brain tumor, and the family asked that the 29-year-old be allowed to return home to be with his father.
"We ask for mercy. We ask for diplomacy. We ask for humanity," said Hekmati's brother-in-law, Ramy Kurdi. He said he hopes Ahmadinejad raises her brother's case on returning home "so the wise leaders there can make a decision and let him come home."
Sarah Hekmati, who is married to Kurdi, added: "We hope that the Iranian authorities who are here in the United States will hear our plea."
Amir Hekmati was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. His parents live in the Flint area, where his father Ali Hekmati teaches at Mott Community College.
The elder Hekmati underwent brain surgery Sept. 19 and is asking to see his son before he dies, said Ramy Kurdi's brother, Bilal Kurdi.
Amir Hekmati, whom Iran accuses of being a CIA spy, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. His conviction was overturned in January, but he has remained in prison with limited contact with his family. No new trial has been scheduled.
The U.S. government has repeatedly denied that Hekmati is a spy. In August, the State Department raised concerns about his health following reports that he had lost a lot of weight.
Islamic council Michigan director Dawud Walid said his group has repeatedly reached out to Iranian officials on Hekmati's behalf.
Walid said he wrote a letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about Hekmati's detention, making an appeal on religious grounds as one Muslim to another on behalf of a third.
"They know our organization very well," Walid said. "We know them, and they know us."
Hekmati's mother, Benhaz Hekmati, was able to see her son several times during a visit to Iran last winter. Since then, contact has been limited.
"He should be allowed phone calls, visits on a weekly basis," said Sarah Hekmati, 31, of Lathrup Village. "He has no contact with us. We have no idea what his condition is."
Lena Masri, a lawyer for the Islamic council, said it and the family are going public now after many efforts behind the scenes.
"Every channel that we tried to pursue has hit a dead end," Masri said. She said Iranian officials may hope to trade Hekmati for U.S. detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
"Unfortunately, he's been caught in the middle," she said. "He's being used as leverage."