The mother of a U.S.-born former Marine accused of espionage in Iran recently pleaded with President Obama "not to forget" her son's plight as the U.S. continues tense, high-level negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.
"Amir [Hekmati] was taken from me nearly three years ago, falsely accused of being a spy and sentenced to death," Behnaz Hekmati wrote in a letter to Obama over the weekend. "That sentence was later overturned due to a lack of evidence, yet still he languishes. This is a historic time for Iran and the United States. I plead that you do not forget Amir, his service, his beautiful smile and his zeal for life… Mr. President, the stress is unbearable, but we persevere - just as I know Amir is strong."
Born in Arizona, Amir Hekmati, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Iran, was traveling to Tehran in the fall of 2011 to visit his elderly grandparents when he disappeared, according to his family. In December, Hekmati suddenly appeared on Iranian state television where he "confessed" to being a secret agent sent by the CIA to infiltrate Iranian intelligence. U.S. officials and Hekmati's family have firmly denied the allegations against him.
"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Hekmati's father, Ali Hekmati, told ABC News shortly after the broadcast. "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."
Ali Hekmati's health has been failing for months as he fights terminal brain cancer, his family says. "He wants nothing more than to see his son once again," Behnaz Hekmati wrote in the letter.
Hekmati was sentenced to death after a secret trial in early 2012, only for the verdict to be overturned. He has been held in an Iranian prison ever since.
Bernadette Meehan, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, confirmed the White House received Behnaz Hekmati's letter and told ABC News the administration remains "concerned about the lack of due process in Mr. Hekmati's case" and is saddened by reports of Ali Hekmati's failing health.
"We urge Iranian authorities to release Mr. Hekmati immediately so that he may be reunited with his family," Meehan said in an email.
While Meehan said that U.S. officials do "raise the cases" of Hekmati and two other Americans currently believed to be held in Iran - former FBI agent Robert Levinson and American pastor Saeed Abedini - during negotiations, it is done "on the sidelines" and "they are not discussed in the context of the negotiations."