Three Americans still held prisoner in Iran, Rep. Smith calls for justice

Pastor Saeed Abedini

New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith asked the Chief Justice of Iran on Thursday to appoint personal representatives to three Americans being held prisoner in the country, review the trial processes, and allow the Swiss Ambassador to report on their condition.

Pastor Saeed Abedini has been imprisoned in Iran since September 2012, former Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati since August 2011, and retired FBI agent Robert Levinson since March 2007. The Chief Justice can recommend pardons and sentence reductions to the Supreme Leader.

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Amir Mirzaei Hekmati

Rep. Smith is also the Chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. In a letter to Iranian Chief Justice Ayatollah Sadeq Ardeshir Amoli Larijani published Thursday, Smith said that he has also urged Iran's President and Foreign Minister to take action. According to the Iranian constitution, however, Ayatollah is "responsible for the implementation of justice."

Abedini, who became a Christian in 2000, was arrested for proselytizing, but maintains that he traveled to his native country to help build a state-run orphanage. He has been beaten by inmates and guards while incarcerated, and was temporarily transferred to a hospital after suffering internal injuries from the assaults. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in January 2013.

Hekmati was visiting his family in Iran when he was captured and accused of being a CIA agent. He is currently on death row after confessing on video that he is a spy. His family says the confession was coerced.

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Robert Levinson

A 20-year FBI veteran, Levinson was reportedly on a CIA mission when he was kidnapped by Iranian authorities. Both the U.S. government and Levinson's family denied for years that he was on a CIA mission, stating instead that he was working as a private investigator. In December, the family admitted the truth, and provided proof of the government relationship. Iran has not admitted that they are holding Levinson.

Rep. Smith said that these cases need to be the focus of future U.S. negotiations with Iran.

"Ironically, Iran wants the world to lift sanctions and trust them with nuclear capabilities despite continued and violent disregard for even basic human rights," he wrote.

"The U.S. government must not waste another opportunity to secure the release of these three Americans... Time is running out."

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