The New York Times – By RICK GLADSTONE; APRIL 18, 2014 – Amir Hekmati, an American incarcerated in Iran since August 2011, recently wrote to its foreign minister seeking help in gaining his release, after Mr. Hekmati learned from his new lawyer that he had been secretly tried and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on a charge of collaborating with the United States government, family members reported Friday.
The letter by Mr. Hekmati, a 30-year-old former Marine of Iranian descent who has repeatedly asserted his innocence, implored the foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to look at the facts of his case, which Mr. Hekmati called “the result of the political misunderstandings between the U.S. and Iran,” according to an English-language summary that the family provided of the letter, which was written in Persian.
News of the letter was first reported Friday by Iranwire.com, a news site established last year by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and rights activist who was imprisoned in Iran during the political convulsions that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election.
The imprisonment of Mr. Hekmati, who had been visiting relatives in Tehran for the first time when he was arrested, has become one of the persistent irritants in the troubled relations between Iran and the United States. It was unclear whether Mr. Zarif had seen Mr. Hekmati’s letter or how it had been transmitted from Evin Prison in Tehran, where Mr. Hekmati has been incarcerated.
He was originally charged with espionage and sentenced to death, but Iran’s Supreme Court overturned the verdict and sentence in March 2012, sending the case back to a lower court.
Mr. Hekmati did not even know about his retrial, conviction and 10-year sentence until his family in Flint, Mich., hired a new lawyer in Tehran who has close ties to influential figures in Iranian politics. The lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, said in an interview this month that he had learned of the secret proceedings against his client only after he took the case.
Mr. Tabatabaei also said his main strategy would be to seek Mr. Hekmati’s release after three years of the 10-year term had been served, as permitted under Iranian law, and not to contest the verdict or sentence. That would make Mr. Hekmati’s earliest release date in August.
But Mr. Hekmati’s letter to the foreign minister also suggested that Mr. Tabatabaei was trying other strategies. Family members have expressed increasing concern that Mr. Hekmati’s father, Ali, a 63-year-old microbiology professor who has terminal brain cancer, will not live to see his son return home.
Mr. Hekmati alluded to his father’s health in his letter, according to the family’s summary, saying he had written to the foreign minister to “explain his case, emphasize his innocence, express his deepest respect for the people of Iran, and to appeal to the Iranian government for a compassionate release so that he may see his ailing father one last time.”
Iranian prosecutors have never explained why they considered Mr. Hekmati a spy. But it has been widely assumed that his career in the Marines may have played a role.