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Iran releases 4 prisoners, including AZ native

Posted at 12:30 PM, Jan 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-16 14:46:05-05

The Iranian government has released four dual-national prisoners, including an Arizona native.  

Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan, was born in Arizona and was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. His family says he has lost significant weight and has trouble breathing, raising fears he could contract tuberculosis. Hekmati went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother. After his arrest, his family says they were told to keep the matter quiet.
 
He was convicted of spying and sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years on a lesser charge.
 
His sister, Sarah, has said her brother renounces his dual Iranian citizenship and vows to never return to Iran if he's allowed to leave. He made the comments in a letter he dictated to his mother by phone.
 
"It has become very clear to me that those responsible view Iranian-Americans not as citizens or even human beings, but as bargaining chips and tools for propaganda," he wrote in the letter sent to the Iranian Interest Section in Washington.
 
"Considering how little value the Ministry of Intelligence places on my Iranian citizenship and passport, I, too, place little value on them and inform you, effectively that I formally renounce my Iranian citizenship and passport."
 
Hekmati was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. He and his family deny any wrongdoing, and say his imprisonment has included physical and mental torture and long periods of solitary confinement in a tiny cell.
 
Representative Matt Salmon of the 5th congressional district of Arizona released the following statement after Iran announced its plans to release the four prisoners which in part reads: 
 
"News of the Islamic Republic of Iran's agreement to free four American citizens today could not be more welcome.  In addition to a Christian pastor and a journalist, the Iranian government's imprisonment of Amir Hekmati, a decorated former U.S. Marine who was visiting his grandmother, was deplorable. Last week, I was honored to join Rep. Dan Kildee (MI-05) in inviting Amir's sister and brother-in-law to the President's State of the Union address to raise awareness of this important issue, and I'm proud that we were ultimately able to secure Amir's freedom."
 
The four prisoners released: 
  • Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian
  • Former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati
  • Pastor Saeed Abedini
  • Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, whose name had not been previously made public.
 
A fifth American detained in Iran, a student, was released in a move unrelated to the swap, U.S. officials said.