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Iranians Want Swap to Free Marine Veteran

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Amir_Mirza_Hekmati_USMCThe family of Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran incarcerated in Iran, received a number of phone calls and emails from Iran proposing prisoner exchanges for Iranians held in the United States. Hekmati rejected the idea on the basis that he is innocent and should be released.

Mr. Hekmati was seized shortly after arriving in Tehran, Iran to visit extended family in August 2011. The Flint, Michigan native is of Iranian descent and is a Marine veteran who served in Iraq.

The death sentence was originally handed down by Iran to Hekmati based on a conviction of espionage, but the verdict was overturned and he was convicted of aiding a hostile country, the United States, and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment.

According to The New York Times, Hekmati wrote to Iran’s president about his detention in Evin Prison in Tehran and explained that he spent four months of imprisonment in a 3-foot-by-3-foot cell and was starved by Iranian officials.

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

He goes on to say, “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. 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.”

This is not the first time Hekmati and his family have tried to garner attention to his case, adding another irritant in the uneasy relationship between the United States and Iran. Last month, Hekmati started a hunger strike only to suspend it after he was told his case would be revisited by Iranian officials.

The release of Amir Hekmati and other American prisoners in Iran has been called on by the Obama administration. Despite repeated speculation, American officials have denied the possibility of a prisoner exchange to free Hekmati.

Iranian officials believe there is an unspecified number of Iranian inmates in the United States that should be released. However, the Justice Department stated there are more than three dozen Iranians in custody in the U.S. for various offenses, mostly drug charges and fraud.

Prison officials have assured the family Mr. Hekmati has not been harmed; a statement from his family 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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