Michigan imam meets with Marine veteran Hekmati in Iranian prison
By NIRAJ WARIKOO | Detroit Free Press | Published: September 1, 2015
DETROIT (Tribune News Service) — A Muslim leader in Dearborn Heights said he recently met in prison in Iran with Amir Hekmati, the U.S. Marine veteran from Flint held captive in Iran for four years, suggesting that he could be released soon.
Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi said he spent almost an hour Aug. 25 in the prison in Tehran, Iran, where Hekmati has been held captive on what his supporters say are trumped-up charges that he’s a spy for the CIA. Elahi, a native of Iran, said he was optimistic that there will be soon “good news about his freedom.”
“He was in good condition,” Elahi told the Free Press. “He was so happy to see me. ... We met and talked face to face. It was supposed to be 30 minutes. We spoke for almost an hour.”
Elahi, who leads the Islamic House of Wisdom mosque in Dearborn Heights, said that no one else was in the room when they spoke. Hekmati once faced a death sentence for his alleged crimes.
“I found him in very good spirits,” Elahi said. “I’m very optimistic now about his situation. I’m optimistic, although I can’t promise anything to anybody for him.”
Elahi was in Iran for a religious conference and to visit some shrines, returning to the U.S. last week. Elahi, who once taught religious classes in Iran’s Navy, said he was able to meet with Hekmati after meeting with members of Iran’s judiciary system.
Elahi’s visit came near the fourth anniversary of Hemakti’s imprisonment, which began Aug. 29, 2011, while he was visiting Iran for the first time to visit his grandmother. Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials have called for his release.
A rally for Hekmati was held Saturday in Bay City, which Elahi attended. A recording of his voice was played at the rally that is posted on a website that calls for his release.
“Had it not been for all of your support, it’s possible that the outrageous death sentence I was given in 2011 would have been carried out,” Hekmati said on the recording. “I’m convinced the only reason I’m alive and allowed to use the prison phone is your support and international outcry at my imprisonment.”
“My captors would have much preferred to keep my voice from being heard, and have me remain in solitary confinement ... in miserable conditions.”
Hekmati said he was threatened with execution by hanging and denied the chance to talk with his ailing father in Michigan.
“Due to your help, my morale has never faltered after all these years because I know I’m not alone,” Hekmati said. “It’s because of your support, you prevented further mistreatment by my Iranian captors.”
Elahi said he was pleased he was able to meet with Hekmati.
“I consider it a blessing from God I was able to make this meeting,” he said.
In Iran, Elahi attended a religious conference for Shia Muslims, the Ahlul-Bayt World Assembly conference. He said that he and other guests were welcomed by the grandson of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran after the Islamic revolution in 1979.
“For me the entire evening was a deeply spiritual and emotional experience,” Elahi said in a Facebook post of his visit to Iran. “The architecture of the shrine was extremely impressive, but what caused my tears was looking at the magnificent burial sites of the late imam (Ayatollah Khomeini) and his son marhoom Sayyed Ahmad Khomainie and also my reflection on so many memories of the last few decades both before and after my immigration to US almost 23 years ago.”
Hekmat was imprisoned just a few days before he was to start school at the University of Michigan, said family members.
He was forced to confess and sentenced to death in January 2012, becoming “the first American to receive the death penalty in Iran in over 33 years,” said a website calling for his release. After an outcry from his supporters, Hekmati’s death sentence was later overruled, but he remains in prison.
©2015 the Detroit Free Press
Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.