Hekmati is a former US Marine who was arrested in 2011 in Iran when visiting his family in the country. After initially being sentenced to death for espionage, his conviction was overturned and he was instead sentenced to ten years in prison for cooperating with a “hostile government.”
Last week, the apparent political prisoner began a hunger strike in protest against the terrible conditions in Evin Prison, denial of medical treatment, and a lack of information about or progress regarding his case. The protest has reportedly been met with threats of solitary confinement by guards who also oversee the large population of political prisoners who are held in Evin Prison.
According to Hekmati’s sister Sarah and the New York Times, he has been told that the outcome of his case depends on the outcome of nuclear negotiations, suggesting that Iran is deliberately holding the prisoner as a bargaining chip and a tool in hostile negotiating tactics.
The Obama administration has been criticized for a perceived lack of pressure for the release of Hekmati and other Americans currently being held in Iran, although these topics have reportedly come up on the sidelines of some nuclear negotiations. Obama has also been criticized for strategically avoiding the broader topic of human rights, in favor of focusing on securing a resolution to the nuclear issue first.
But Hekmati’s case may serve to bring additional attention to Iran’s human rights violation, even as the regime attempts to use it to secure a favorable agreement in spite of those violations. Human rights abuses remain strong in Iran, with the United Nations having voted last week in favor of a new resolution condemning the Islamic Republic on that point.
Naturally, many in the West are only acutely aware of these abuses when they are directed against Western prisoners like Hekmati, Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, or Pastor Saeed Abedini. But of course these cases are relevant to more wide-ranging trends in the Iranian justice system, which have been highlighted by rights groups and others