Michigan family urges Iran to free detained ex-Marine

It's been a heart-wrenching year for the family of Amir Hekmati, the 29-year-old Iranian-American arrested last August on espionage charges.

"We felt like we got dumped in the middle of an international crisis just because our brother wanted to go and meet his relatives for the first time,â?? Amirâ??s sister Sarah Hekmati said.

Amir was arrested while he was visiting his Iranian grandmothers.

His sister and brother-in-law drove to Flint from Detroit Tuesday to hold a prayer vigil at Mott Community College, where Hekmati's father is a biology professor. Ali Hekmati is recovering from brain surgery and was recently diagnosed with incurable brain cancer. All the more reason, the family said, for the urgency behind their pleas for Amir's release.

Sarah said, "My dad's worst fear is that by the time they get around to addressing his case, he may not have enough time to see his son."

Efforts to expedite Amir's case have been futile thus far. Though Iranian authorities overturned Amir's death sentence in March, Sarah said there's no word about a re-trial or what that would entail. The U.S. State Department has sent a medical letter to the Swiss Embassy from Amirâ??s fatherâ??s surgeon. The Swiss Embassy represents U.S. interests in Iran.

â??We have no news from him,â?? she said. â??He's not been allowed any access to us, we're not allowed any visits."

The family hopes Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hears about Amir's case while he's in New York this week for the U.N. General Assembly.

"The fact that Ahmadinejad is in the country might simply be a little bit greater leverage,â?? said Mott Community College professor of political science, Paul Rozycki. â??It might really be a chance for Iran to improve its image by taking a sympathetic view on this issue."

Until then, Amir's sister says there's little the family can do, but hope, pray and plead.

â??For now he's just sitting in a cell, not knowing what's going on with no contact to the outside world. We understand that he's been in solitary confinement,â?? Sarah said.

"Every moment that they have a day of freedom, they get to enjoy the sunshine, they look around and they know their brother doesn't have that day,â?? said Sarahâ??s husband, Ramy Kurdi.

Family members want Amir to know they're fighting for that day.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has joined Amir Hekmatiâ??s family in pleading for his release on humanitarian grounds.

Supporters of Amir Hekmati have set up a website,, and a Facebook page at