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American-Iranian Prisoners, Iranian Dissidents Mark Several Sad Occasions

“The judiciary does not need American officials to write prescriptions for it,” Larijani said to Iranian media. “Our advice to them is not to hype (such matters) up uselessly.”

This message evidently came in response to a statement issued by Kerry on Saturday, coinciding with the four year anniversary of the arrest and imprisonment of Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine who was visiting his grandmother in Iran in August 2011 when he was apprehended by Iranian authorities and accused of attempting to set up CIA operations in the country.

Kerry’s statement also made reference to two other Americans being held by Iran – Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and a Christian convert, Pastor Saeed Abedini – as well as to former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007.

Coincidentally, Jason Rezaian also marked a milestone in his imprisonment last week, when surpassing 400 days since his arrest alongside his wife and fellow journalist on July 22 of last year. In the case of Rezaian, as in that of Hekmati, the Iranian government has failed to present any charges of spying.

Rezaian is accused of cooperating with so-called hostile governments, but the exact nature of the charges against him has never been made clear. The fourth session of his trial was initially thought to be his last, but the Iranian judiciary failed to hand down a judgment and sentence within a week, as required by law. His family issued a statement to mark his 400th day in which they argued that these delays support the notion that Rezaian is being held as a source of political leverage against the United States.

In letters to Iranian and American officials, Hekmati has made similar assertions, referring to himself and other Western prisoners as “bargaining chips,” as well as accusing Iran of “serial hostage taking.”

All three prisoners have reportedly been subject to mistreatment and poor prison conditions, and both Rezaian and Hekmati are said to have lost weight as a result of chronic malnourishment. Hekmati has been subjected to stun gun assaults, floggings, stress positions, and emotional abuse such as being falsely informed that his mother had been killed in a car accident and not being permitted to contact family afterward.

Abedini has also routinely been kept out of touch with his loved ones. The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported on Monday that his wife had had no word from him since being informed of a physical beating he incurred on April 6.

Rezaian was subject to long periods of solitary confinement before his case went to trial, and no information on his whereabouts or condition was released to his family. His mother attempted to gain access to court proceedings in July and August but was refused in each case, and has rarely been allowed to speak with him besides.

On Saturday, IranWire published an interview with Hekmati’s sister Sarah, in which she explained that his family had not been allowed to so much as speak to him by phone for two years. But the situation changed over time, so that now they are able to have monitored, five-minute phone calls with him on a fairly regular basis. She is confident that the situation will improve further in the wake of the nuclear deal signed by Iran, the US, and five other world powers.

“These two countries are working with one another and have a direct relationship for the first time in over 30 years,” Sarah Hekmati said. “We hope that this change is a step in a positive direction in bringing Amir home.”

But Abedini’s wife Naghmeh shares none of Sarah Hekmati’s confidence. Rather, she believes that the agreement represents an opportunity for Iran to exploit Western desires for reconciliation. The International Campaign quotes her as saying that the State Department has actually diminished its efforts to secure her husband’s release since signing the nuclear agreement. “They are mostly silent,” she added.

If this is the case with a US citizen, it stands to reason that the US would be even less active with regard to the cases of prisoners who have ties to the US but are not citizens. Thinking along these lines, the International Campaign links the cause of freeing the three imprisoned Americans to the cause of freeing Omid Kokabee, a physics graduate student who had been studying in the US at the time that he was arrested on a visit home to Iran.

Kokabee was allegedly jailed by the Iranian regime after refusing to work for them on a weapons project. A report on his case was published by IranWire in August, coinciding with his 33rd birthday, the fifth that had passed since he was placed behind bars in January 2011. On Wednesday, IranWire followed up by reporting that prison officials had begun to refuse Kokabee access to reading materials, as well as denying his family their latest monthly visit, in apparent retaliation for the foreign media coverage of his case.

Kokabee’s birthday can be listed as another ignominious occasion, alongside Hekmati’s four year and Rezaian’s 400 day prison anniversaries. Further adding to the coincidence, Wednesday also marked the anniversary of another instance of the Iranian regime’s repressive activities – this one non-judicial and indeed located outside of the borders of Iran.

September 2, 2013 was the date of what Iranian dissidents have called the Camp Ashraf Massacre, when Iraqi security forces apparently acted on orders from Iran in attacking the former Iraqi residence of the Iranian resistance group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran. In the unprovoked raid, 52 of the roughly 100 individuals then remaining in the town were killed, many being shot execution-style after having their hands tied.

The website for the PMOI’s parent organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran marked the two-year anniversary by, among other things, re-posting photographs taken of the site after the raid.

The former US military base of Camp Liberty had become the new Iraqi home for more than 3,000 members of the PMOI prior to the raid, but this has also been subjected to attack and repressive measures by the Iraqi government and by Shiite militants directly controlled by Iran. The NCRI reported on Wednesday that Abdul Ali Ghanbari became the 27th person in the would-be refugee camp to die as a direct result of a medical blockage imposed on it.

While this surely makes the anniversary of the attack and even more somber occasion for the group, the NCRI previously reported that Friday had provided a positive occasion for some notable contrast, as supporters of the group in the United Kingdom used that date to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of the formation of the PMOI.