The families of three US citizens of Iranian descent who are incarcerated in Iran, one of them held for more than three-and-a-half years, have been hoping that the success of diplomacy on the nuclear dispute would herald their releases as goodwill gestures.
However, the fates of the three — Jason Rezaian, 39; Saeed Abedini, 34; and Amir Hekmati, 31 — remained just as hazy as they had ever been on Friday, a day after the framework agreement was reached.
They were barely mentioned in the initial flurry of news announcements on the framework agreement, which, when finalized, would limit Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief and portend an end to the country’s prolonged isolation.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking to reporters at a news conference after the announcement of an agreement at talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, was asked about the three almost immediately and offered little in the way of an update, except to reiterate the US government’s determination to secure their freedom.
“We have a very specific process in place to try to deal with it,” Kerry said. “And we call on Iran again today, now, in light of this, to release these Americans and let them get home with their families. And we’re working on that, and we will continue to be very focused on it.”
Families of the three, who have become increasingly vocal to raise public awareness, expressed appreciation of Kerry’s statement. However, they could barely hide their frustration and disappointment.
The family of Rezaian, a Washington Post correspondent and California native who has been imprisoned without publicly revealed charges since July 20 last year, issued a statement challenging Iranian officials to follow their own laws and international human rights commitments.
“Jason has been held more than twice as long as any prior Western journalist, and with no evidence that Iran is willing to claim justifies their actions,” Rezaian’s brother, Ali, said. “All Iran has said is that ‘it’s complicated.’ Now that a framework agreement has been announced, things should be less ‘complicated.’”
Hekmati, a US Marine Corps veteran from Flint, Michigan, who was arrested while visiting relatives in August 2011, was originally sentenced to death on an espionage conviction that was later overturned.
He was convicted of the lesser charge of aiding a hostile country — meaning the US — and sentenced to 10 years.
He has repeatedly asserted his innocence, accused the Iranian penal authorities of mistreatment and described himself as a political prisoner.
“Now that Iran has sat at the table next to the United States, working diligently to come to an agreement for a nuclear program, we ask Iran if they still consider the United States a hostile country, and if they do not, perhaps it is time they open the prison gates and allow the Red Cross to visit Amir without guard and report on the status of his well-being,” his family said in a statement.
Abedini, of Boise, Idaho, was sentenced in 2013 to eight years in prison on charges of disturbing national security by creating a private network of churches.
The American Center for Law and Justice, an advocacy group that represents his family, said that with the achievement of a framework nuclear deal, “it is critical that our government use this unique opportunity — as our two nations continue to sit at the negotiating table over the next few weeks and months — to bring Pastor Saeed and the other wrongfully imprisoned Americans home to their families.”
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