The 32 year-old Hekmati, a former US marine, was arrested in 2011 while visiting relatives in Iran. He was accused of being an American spy and as his suit alleges, he was then coerced into providing a false confession, leading to his conviction and an initial sentence of death. That sentence was eventually overturned and replaced with a sentence of 10 years in prison, which he served until being released in a prisoner swap, along with Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, Christian Pastor Saeed Abedini, and a fourth dual citizen, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari.
Hekmati and his family in the United States frequently spoke out about his mistreatment throughout the period of his detention. Now, his lawsuit airs those grievances once again, detailing how authorities whipped the bottoms of his feet, kept him in stress positions for hours on end, shocked him with a Taser, beat him with batons, and exerted various psychological pressures to help elicit a false confession.
According to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Hemati’s attorney, Scott Gilbert, has indicated that he does not expect Iran to defend itself in the American courts, thereby opening the door for a judge to issue a default guilty verdict. Afterwards, Gilbert plans to attempt to recover financial compensation for his client from assets frozen in American banks.
Presumably, this case will thus reinvigorate a conflict that emerged last month between Iran and the US, after the US Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the victims of Iran-backed terrorist acts could access two billion dollars in frozen Iranian funds in order to collect on the damages awarded to them. If this judgement is viewed as precedent for victims of torture as well, Hekmati may be able to collect compensation against the Iranian government’s will.
That precedent may be more broadly valuable, not only because Hekmati was accompanied by other dual citizens in the prisoner release, but also because dual nationals remain under sever threat in the Islamic Republic. This is certainly true of those who hold US citizenship, but also of Iranian citizens of the UK and other US allies, who happen to travel to Iran for reasons such as visiting family.
Recently, it was revealed that another such individual had been captured by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in April as she was ending a visit to her parents. On Wednesday, The Guardian published an update on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has reportedly been held in solitary confinement for five weeks, where she says she has been put under pressure to issue a false confession despite having not been formally accused of any crime.
After going public with their story, Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe said that Iranian authorities had arranged the first family visit so far among the imprisoned woman, her parents, and her 22-month-old daughter. The child, Gabriella, is presently in the care of her grandparents and cannot return home to her father in the UK, as authorities have confiscated her passport.
The Guardian notes that there is a petition being circulated which urges British Prime Minister David Cameron to pressure the Iranian government to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Naturally, such advocacy is reminiscent of the Western responses to the cases of Hekmati and others. But even in the midst of direct appeals from Western governments, Iranian officials have tended to reply by reiterating that they do not recognize dual citizenship, and therefore see their detainees only as Iranian citizens, and thus exclusively subject to Tehran’s authority.
Consequently, Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been refused contact with the British consulate, as well as being denied access to legal counsel as she is being interrogated.