Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Iran: Update--Marine Veteran of Iranian Descent, 30, Still Being Held, Bob Levinson Disappeared in 2007

According to The New York Times, the family of Amir Hekmati, 30, a US Marine veteran who has been incarcerated in Iran for more than two years even though his espionage conviction was overturned, has been contacted by the United Nations for details on his case, based on information provided by Sarah Hekmati, the detainee's sister said on Monday (November 18).

Reportedly, representatives from  the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, based in Geneva, has reached out to Ms. Hekmati in recent weeks.

The Iranian government has not explained why it has continued to hold Hekmati, an American of Iranian descent who was taken into custody while on a visit to see his maternal grandmother and other relatives in 2011. 

Amir Hekmati disappeared for several months, and then was charged with espionage, tried and sentenced to death. The verdict was overturned and a new trial was ordered in March 2012. Unfortunately, the retrial never happened, and the charges against him, if any, are confusing to all concerned.

COMMENT: The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, based is seemingly in the midst of drafting principles that would establish the right of detained people to mount legal challenges. While such principles would be unenforceable, they would nonetheless be a political embarrassment to United Nations member states that violate them. 

Iran’s incarceration of Hekmati, of Flint, MI, who served in the Marines for four years, has become another festering issue in the estranged relations between the United States and Iran, which broke diplomatic ties more than three decades ago. 

In a telephone interview, Mr. Hekmati’s sister said that Iranian relatives who have been permitted to visit him in Tehran’s Evin Prison reported that his mood had become increasingly pessimistic in recent weeks. The election of Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, this summer had brought an initial burst of hope that the government might be more inclined to release him as a show of good will toward the United States. 

President Obama personally raised Hekmati’s case with Mr. Rouhani during their breakthrough telephone conversation on September 27, as the Iranian leader was departing from his visit to the United Nations, American officials have reported. 

Although US diplomats and the UN are generally positive in terms of the potentiality of Hekmati's release, the candid reality is that Hassan Rouhani is a kinder, gentler President, but is long on rhetoric and short on honesty.

As a matter of interest, our readers should know that according to REUTERS, retired FBI Agent Bob Levinson, now 65, in 2012 the FBI offered a rare $1 million reward for information leading to the safe return of Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007, and is believed to be held hostage in an unknown location.

Levinson reportedly disappeared from Iran's Kish Island while on a business trip. Iran's government has said previously it has no information about his whereabouts.

Levinson's wife, Christine, joined the press conference in Washington where the reward was announced to plead for information, flanked by FBI Director Robert Mueller as well as dozens of current and former agents.

Washington cut diplomatic relations with Tehran shortly after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the two countries are at odds over a range of issues, including Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Levinson traveled to Iran on March 8, 2007, and had been working as a private investigator for several major corporations. He retired from the FBI in 1998 after a 22-year career.

The $1 million reward is rare in kidnapping cases and is being funded by the US Justice Department.

The United States and European Union placed tough sanctions aimed at Iran's economy as part of a bid to force Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.