The story was conveyed to the media via Hekmati’s sister Sarah, and via a letter dictated by phone to his mother and sent to the office of the US embassy in Pakistan, which handles affairs for visitors to Iran, in absence of direct diplomatic relations between the US and the Islamic Republic.
In his letter, Hekmati affirmed the interpretation of his imprisonment that has been advanced by many of his advocates in the US. Iran has never provided evidence to support its accusations of spying, which originally led to Hekmati being sentenced to death before that sentence was thrown out and replaced with a ten year prison term on the charge of cooperating with “hostile governments.”
“It has become very clear to me that those responsible view Iranian-Americans not as citizens or even human beings, but as bargaining chips and tools for propaganda,” Hekmati explained in his letter, as quoted by the Associated Press. “Considering how little value the Ministry of Intelligence places on my Iranian citizenship and passport, I, too, place little value on them and inform you, effectively that I formally renounce my Iranian citizenship and passport.”
Hekmati’s asertion that he is being persecuted and used as a political prop in Iran’s conflict with the West also has relevance to the cases of other American and European citizens currently imprisoned in Iran, including Pastor Saeed Abedini and Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian.
But at the same time that these cases remain as ongoing reminders of Iran’s persecution of persons with dual citizenship, there are always various other cases highlighting similar persecution of other groups that are considered threats to the Iranian regime’s power and ultra-religious values.
BosNewsLife reported on Wednesday that Victor Bet-Tamarz, an elderly Assyrian Christian pastor, had been released earlier this month after being arrested last Christmas along with two house guests and participants in the pastor’s home-based church services.
While his release may seem like good news on the surface, BosNewsLife notes that Bet-Tamarz and his family remain at risk from the security forces that are known for regular crackdowns on Iranian Christians. His health has noticeably deteriorated as a result of harsh prison conditions, and his family’s inability to pay the bail ordered by authorities raises the possibility that the pastor may be forced to sell his home in order to escape being punitively returned to prison.
Vigorous recent crackdowns on Christians have coincided with broader crackdowns on religious minorities and others. The National Council of Resistance of Iran notes that Wednesday marked the celebration of Chaharshanbe-Suri, a Persian new year celebration that dates to before the advent of Islam. Unlike prior years, the regime banned the ancient festival this year, possibly in an effort to stamp out non-Muslim influences.
Nonetheless, many citizens have reportedly defied the ban and have been met with attempts by the security forces to disrupt and repress gatherings. The NCRI adds that some celebrants have used the festival as the backdrop for anti-regime protests, putting themselves at risk for politically motivated arrests.
Naturally, anti-regime activists also comprise a persecuted group, and the NCRI points out that mass arrests took place on Tuesday when a soccer match became the point of organization for a large group of activists expressing solidarity with a grocery vendor who set himself on fire last weekend in protest after being harassed by authorities and prevented from acquiring the licenses necessary for his only source of income.