by RICK GLADSTONE, NY TIMES, Dec. 19, 2014 (print version Dec. 20)
Amir Hekmati, a former Marine who began a hunger strike and wrote to President Obama this week in despair over his prolonged incarceration in Iran, also has protested to Iranian officials over the apparent paralysis of his case, untreated lung infections, and the prison’s cold cells, power blackouts and vermin. [Link to Amir’s Letter to President Obama: http://wp.me/p49SUn-11o]
In [his] letter to the ministers of justice and intelligence, Mr. Hekmati also said that he had been warned by the authorities at Evin Prison in Tehran, where he has been held for more than three years, to quit the hunger strike or he would be placed in solitary confinement.
The case of Mr. Hekmati, 31, has become a festering irritant in the estranged relations between Iran and the United States. He was arrested while visiting relatives in Iran in August 2011, convicted of espionage and sentenced to death, but the conviction was overturned. He was then convicted of helping a hostile country, a reference to the United States, and sentenced to 10 years.
An American of Iranian descent from Flint, Mich., Mr. Hekmati has asserted his innocence and called himself a pawn in a far deeper dispute that began before he was born. An appeal of his second conviction has languished.
It was already known that Mr. Hekmati had begun a hunger strike and had sent a letter via his family to Mr. Obama, which was released on Tuesday by relatives in the United States.
It described life in Evin Prison as a “nightmare” and exhorted Mr. Obama to press the Iranians about his case during the negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program that are underway in Geneva.
Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, confirmed on Thursday that a letter from Mr. Hekmati had been received. She reiterated the administration’s demand that Iran release all three Americans it is known to have imprisoned and to assist in locating a fourth who vanished in Iran seven years ago.
“Future … depends on the outcome of the nuclear talks” now extended to July
Mr. Hekmati’s new disclosures were reported on Thursday by Iranwire, a news website established by expatriate Iranian journalists. It posted the letter by Mr. Hekmati that was addressed to Iran’s justice and intelligence ministers, and an interview that Iranwire had conducted with Mr. Hekmati’s sister, Sarah, in the United States. Representatives of the Hekmati family on Friday confirmed their authenticity.
“I have now decided to go on hunger strike to protest at this injustice,” Mr. Hekmati wrote. “I have been told that, if I continue with this protest, I will be placed in solitary confinement. But I am deeply concerned with the lack of progress in my case and feel that I must take some action.”
The letter provided previously unpublicized details of a deterioration in prison life for Mr. Hekmati in recent months, following a raid by penal officers on Evin’s Ward 350, where nonviolent political convicts are often kept.
“I was moved from Ward 350 of Evin Prison to a new ward with poor hygienic conditions,” he wrote. “We have no heating; there is no gas and it is very cold inside the prison. I am always sick because of the cold and I have suffered constant lung infections over the past several months.”
He wrote that his diet consisted only of rice and lentils, that there were “frequent electricity blackouts,” and that fellow inmates were infested with ticks and lice. It was unclear whether the letter had been seen by the intended recipients, Sadeq Ardeshir Amoli Larijani, the head of the judiciary, and Mahmoud Alavi, the minister of intelligence.
Sarah Hekmati said in the interview that Iranian officials had told her brother that the future of his case depends on the outcome of the nuclear talks, which have been extended until next July. When Mr. Hekmati heard that, she said, he “began to feel really hopeless.”
Iran has also arrested Jason Rezaian, 38, of California, The Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent who has been held on unspecified charges since July; and Saeed Abedini, 34, of Idaho, a pastor sentenced last year to eight years in prison on charges of disturbing national security through a private network of churches. A fourth American, Robert A. [‘Bob’] Levinson, disappeared while visiting Iran in 2007. American officials have said privately that they believe Iran views him as a spy.
[Photos and any emphases added by FreeAllThree.com]
Thanks to NY Times’ Rick Gladstone for outstanding coverage on the plight of today’s American hostages in Iran.