Bio and Timelines: Americans Held in Iran

January 15, 2016
Dec. 3, 2015, marked Jason Rezaian’s 500th day in prison. The Washington Post journalist has been held in Iran on charges including espionage. On Nov. 22, 2015, he was sentenced. But the Judiciary has not released any further details. “During these 500 days, Jason has been subjected to harsh interrogations, held in isolation for extended periods, denied adequate medical care, and afforded only a few perfunctory opportunities to speak with his defense lawyer,” according to The Post's Executive Editor Martin Baron
 
In addition to Rezaian, three other Iranian-Americans —Siamak Namazi, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini —are detained in Iran. A fifth American, former FBI agent Robert Levinson, has been missing since 2007, when he was last sighted on an Iranian island. The State Department’s travel warning for Iran, updated in August 2015, warns that Iran’s “government does not recognize dual citizenship and will not allow the Swiss to provide protective services for U.S. citizens who are also Iranian nationals.”
 

President Hassan Rouhani indicated that Tehran might free the Americans held in Iran if Washington releases Iranians held in the United States. "If the Americans take the appropriate steps and set them free, certainly the right environment will be open and the right circumstances will be created for us to do everything within our power and our purview to bring about the swiftest freedom for the Americans held in Iran as well," Rouhani told CNN on Sept. 27, 2015, when he was in New York for the U.N. General Assembly.

Iranian officials deny it would be a swap, labeling the exchange a humanitarian gesture by both countries. “I don’t particularly like the word exchange, but from a humanitarian perspective, if we can take a step, we must do it,” Rouhani told CBS’s "60 Minutes."
 
On Oct. 29, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry raised the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens in Iran during a bilateral with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The two were in Vienna to attend peace talks on Syria and were meeting to discuss implementation of the nuclear deal.  
 
The following is a rundown of the American prisoners, followed by quotes from U.S. officials on their release.

Jason Rezaian
 
Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was detained on July 22, 2014. On Oct. 7, 2015 he reached 444 days in detention – the same amount of time U.S. hostages were held at the U.S. embassy in Tehran from 1979 to 1981. Charges against him include espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments,” and “propaganda against the establishment.” The indictment specifically cited writing to President Obama. According to Iranian press reports, Rezaian allegedly applied for a job with the administration. He reportedly wrote to Obama, “In Iran, I’m in contact with simple laborers to influential mullahs.”
 
On May 26, 2014, Rezaian went on trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles national security cases. He denied the charges against him “I carried out all my activities legally and as a journalist,” he saidIn a press conference on Oct. 11, 2015, Judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei confirmed that Rezaian had been found guilty but did not provide details on his sentence or the spefic charges on which he was convicted. Rezaian’s family and colleagues strongly condemned the conviction. The Post's Executive Editor Martin Baron said that “Any fair and just review would quickly overturn this unfounded verdict.” On Nov. 22, 2015, Iran's state news agency announced that Rezaian was sentenced. But the Mohseni-Ejei said he could not reveal further details. 
 
On Christmas Day 2015, Rezaian’s wife and mother were allowed to visit. “This is the first time in the year that I have been visiting him in Evin Prison that I could spend an extended time there and bring him his first home-cooked meal in months,” his mother, Mary Rezaian, said in an email to The Washington Post 
 
Rezaian is a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. His father moved to the United States from Iran in 1959, and his mother was from Chicago. Jason was born in California in 1976. He moved to Iran to work as a journalist in 2008, and became The Post’s Tehran correspondent in 2012. Rezaian’s Iranian wife, Yaganeh Salehi, a correspondent for the Emirates-based paper The National, was also detained in 2014. She was released 10 weeks later, but the case has not formally been dismissed.
 
The following website and social media accounts are dedicated to Rezaian’s release.
 
Twitter account: @FreeJasonYegi
 
Siamak Namazi
 
Dubai-based businessman Siamak Namazi was reportedly arrested around Oct. 15, 2015. The detention of Crescent Petroleum’s head of strategic planning has not been officially confirmed, nor have any details regarding any charges brought against him. He was arrested just days before the Oct. 18, 2015 Adoption Day of the Iran nuclear deal. 
 
Namazi is the son of a former governor of the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in western Iran, according to The Washington Post. His family came to the United States in 1983 when he was a boy. He became a U.S. citizen in 1993. After graduating from college, Namazi returned to Iran for military service, which is compulsory there. From 1994 to 1996, he worked as a duty officer with the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning in Tehran.
 
In 1998, Namazi founded Future Alliance International, a Washington D.C.-based consulting company focused on the risk of doing business in Iran. He came to see Iranian-Americans as a potential asset to his home country. “The new generation must be made to feel that no matter how much time elapses they will be welcomed and treated with respect in the land of their parents,” he wrote in 1998 for The Iranian. He suggested that Iran’s recognition of dual citizenship would be a good first step. “Iranian-Americans are a formidable force in helping mend the bridge between Iran and the United States,” he stated in a 1999 co-authored paper.
 
Namazi later worked as Managing Director at a family consulting founded in Tehran that later moved to Dubai, the Atieh Group. In 2005, he was a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He also did a stint at the National Endowment for Democracy in 2006. He then worked for a few different energy consulting groups in Dubai. In 2013, Namazi warned that sanctions unintentionally created shortages of life-saving medical supplies and drugs in Iran. He was General Manager of Access Consulting Group, a Dubai-based consultancy focused on energy, before moving on to his most recent position at Crescent Petroleum. Namazi holds degrees from the London Business School and from Rutgers and Tufts Universities.  
 
 
Amir Hekmati
 
Amir Hekmati was arrested in August 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. He was charged with espionage, waging war against God, and corrupting the earth. In January 2012, he was convicted and sentenced to death. He was the first American to receive the death sentence in Iran since the revolution. But in March 2012, a retrial overturned the espionage conviction and instead charged him with “cooperating with hostile governments.” He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  

On Dec. 30, 2015, Tasnim news agency reported that prison officials were considering a conditional release of Hekmati for good conduct. His lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei told the outlet that he was eligible for probation under Iranian law. In January 2016, Hekmati’s family said that he was allowed to receive medical treatment outside of prison. He was escorted from Evin Prison to hospital for medical tests, including a CT scan, due to a lymph node swelling in his face and neck. 
 
Hekmati is a former U.S. Marine and a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen. His parents were born in Iran. Hekmati was born in Flagstaff, Arizona in 1983 and grew up in Nebraska and Michigan. He served in the Marines from 2001 to 2005, including a six-month deployment to Iraq. He later worked as a government contractor doing linguistic and translation work.
 
In January 2016, Congressman Dan Kildee, whose constituents include the Hekmati family, implored President Obama to mention Amir Hekmati by name during his State of the Union address. Kildee said he would have Sarah Hekmati, Amir’s sister, to be his guest at the address. “Amir Hekmati has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly 1,600 days. It is long past time for Iran to release him so he can be reunited with his family in Michigan,” Congressman Kildee said. “Having Sarah join me at the State of the Union will serve as an important reminder of Amir’s continued imprisonment and the pain their family continues to endure. We continue to press for his release and do everything we can to bring him home.”
 
The following website and social media accounts are dedicated to Hekmati’s release.
 
 
Saeed Abedini
 
Rev. Saeed Abedini was detained on July 28, 2012, and initially imprisoned in September 2012. He had been in Iran to visit family and construct orphanages in partnership with Iranian Christians. His closed trial was held on Jan. 22, 2013. He was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison, reportedly for “undermining national security.”
 
Abedini was born in Iran in 1980 and later converted to Christianity. In 2002, he met his future wife Naghmeh, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who was visiting Iran. The couple played a prominent role in establishing 100 underground churches in Iran for 2,000 Christian converts. Iranian Muslims who convert to Christianity are not allowed to worship in established churches, although Christianity is legal in Iran and the constitution stipulates proportionate representation in parliament for various Christian minorities. Under pressure from the regime, the couple moved to the United States in 2005.
 
Abedini was ordained as a minister in 2008. During a trip to Iran in 2009, authorities reportedly threatened him with death for his conversion to Christianity and told him he could only return to Iran if he ceased his underground church activities. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen through marriage in 2010. Between 2009 and 2012, he traveled to and from Iran eight times before his 2012 detention on his ninth trip. His family in Tehran has periodically been allowed to visit him in prison, but he has not been permitted to contact his wife and two children in the United States.
 
The following websites and social media accounts are dedicated to Abedini’s release.
 
Twitter: @SaveSaeed

Robert Levinson
 
Former FBI agent Robert Levinson went missing on March 9, 2007, during a visit to Kish Island. Initial reports indicated that he was researching a cigarette smuggling case as a private investigator. "He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran," the State Department said in 2007. In 2013, the Associated Press reported that he had been working on a private contract for U.S. intelligence.
 
Iran has denied knowing his status or location. In December 2011, Levinson’s family released statement he had taped a year earlier. In January 2013, his family released recent photos of him, and they acknowledged in late 2013 that his visit to Kish Island was partly related to his contract work for the CIA.
 
Levinson is an American citizen who was born in Flushing, New York in 1948. He served in the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for 28 years, where he focused on investigating organized crime in Russia. He retired from the FBI in 1998 and began working as a private investigator. He has seven children.
 
 
Statements from U.S. officials
 
President Barack Obama
 
On March 20, 2015, President Barack Obama issued the following statement on U.S. citizens detained or missing in Iran for the occasion of Nowruz, Persian New Year.
 
The spirit of family is deeply woven into all of the rich cultural traditions of the Nowruz holiday.  It is a time for reuniting and rejoicing with loved ones and sharing hopes for the new year.  Today, as families across the world gather to mark this holiday, we remember those American families who are enduring painful separations from their loved ones who are imprisoned or went missing in Iran.
 
Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs.  He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.
 
Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan has been imprisoned in Iran on false espionage charges for over three and a half years.  His family, including his father who is gravely ill, has borne the pain of Amir's absence for far too long.
 
Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California, an Iranian government credentialed reporter for the Washington Post, has been unjustly held in Iran for nearly eight months on vague charges.  It is especially painful that on a holiday centered on ridding one’s self of the difficulties of the past year, Jason’s mother and family will continue to carry the heavy burden of concern regarding Jason’s health and well-being into the new year.
 
And finally, we recently marked yet another anniversary since Robert Levinson went missing on Kish Island.   His family has now endured the hardship of his disappearance for over eight years.
 
At this time of renewal, compassion, and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home and call on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian and to work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson so that they all can be safely reunited with their families as soon as possible.  
 
In honor of the familial spirit so strongly enshrined within this holiday and for the Abedini, Hekmati, Rezaian, and Levinson families, I hope this new spring is filled with joyous moments for us all with all of our loved ones by our sides.

Secretary of State John Kerry
 
On Aug. 28, 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement marking the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention in Iran. 
 
This Saturday marks the four-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his relatives in Iran.
 
We repeat our call on the Iranian government to release Amir on humanitarian grounds. The Hekmati family needs Amir - their brother, their son, their uncle - to be home where he belongs. 
 
This is a milestone no family wants to mark, and the Hekmati family has shown inspiring perseverance in the face of this injustice. And as befits a former Marine, Amir has shown tremendous courage in the face of this unjust detention.    
 
As President Obama said recently in his speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, we are not going to relent until we bring Amir home. I join the President in his steadfast commitment to reunite Amir with his family.   
 
We also call on the government ‎of Iran to release Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, and to work cooperatively with us to locate Robert Levinson, so that all can be returned to their families.
 
On Aug. 29, 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry called on Tehran to release three U.S. citizens detained in Iran and one that went missing on Iranian soil.
 
The Unites States respectfully calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian to their families and work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson and bring him home.
 
Today marks the three-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his family in Iran.  Mr. Hekmati is the eldest son; he has long been separated from his family and they need him home.
 
Mr. Levinson went missing in March 2007 on Kish Island.  His family has endured years of painful separation and worry.  We are immensely concerned about his well-being and whereabouts.
 
On September 26, Mr. Abedini will have been detained for two years in Iran, on charges related to his religious beliefs.  Mrs. Abedini has spoken eloquently about the difficulties her family has faced during this challenging time.
 
Mr. Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, is being detained in an unknown location.  His love of Iran is seen in his reporting – portraits of the generosity and kindness of the Iranian people.
 
The United States remains committed to returning all of them to their families, friends, and loved ones.  We ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian and respectfully request the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home.
 
Congress
 
On May 11, 2015, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on Iran to immediately release the detained and missing Americans. Concurrent Resolution 16 passed 90-0. On June 15, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar resolution, introduced by Dan Kildee (D-MI), who represents the Hekmati family in Congress.
 
CONCURRENT RESOLUTION
 
Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring),
 
SECTION 1. STATEMENT OF POLICY ON RELEASE OF UNITED STATES CITIZENS IN IRAN.
 
(a) Findings- Congress makes the following findings:
 
(1) Saeed Abedini of Idaho is a Christian pastor unjustly detained in Iran since 2012 and sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his religious beliefs.
 
(2) Amir Hekmati of Michigan is a former United States Marine unjustly detained in 2011 while visiting his Iranian relatives and sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage.
 
(3) Jason Rezaian of California is a Washington Post journalist credentialed by the Government of Iran. He was unjustly detained in 2014 and has been held without a trial.
 
(4) Robert Levinson of Florida is a former Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) official who disappeared in 2007 in Iran. He is the longest held United States citizen in United States history.
 
(b) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that--
 
(1) the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran should immediately release Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati, and Jason Rezaian, and cooperate with the United States Government to locate and return Robert Levinson; and
 
(2) the United States Government should undertake every effort using every diplomatic tool at its disposal to secure their immediate release.
 
Deputy State Department Spokesman Jeff Rathke
 
“We’re aware of reports that U.S. citizen Jason Rezaian’s trial has begun in Iran. We continue to monitor this as closely as possible, and we continue to call for all of the absurd charges to be dropped and for Jason Rezaian to be released immediately.”
 
“You asked about the closed nature of the trial….It certainly adds to our concerns and it fits, unfortunately, into a pattern of a complete lack of transparency and the lack of due process that we’ve seen since Jason Rezaian was first detained. So while we call for his trial to be open, we also maintain that he should never have been detained or put on trial in the first place.
 
Now, you asked about contacts as well. We always raise the cases of detained and missing U.S. citizens with Iranian officials on the sidelines of the P5+1 talks and the other interactions that happen in that context, and we will continue to do that until all of them are home.”
 
“We call on the Iranian authorities to release Jason Rezaian immediately. This is independent of the nuclear negotiations. We also call for the release of Saeed Abedini and Amir Hekmati, as well as for Iran to cooperate in locating Robert Levinson, so that they can all be returned to their families.”
 
“The charges against Jason Rezaian are absurd. They should be dropped; he should be released.”
—May 26, 2015, according to the press

Statement by Congressman Dan Kildee on Veterans Day, Amir Hekmati Continued Imprisonment in Iran
 
“Today we thank and honor those who have worn the uniform to protect and defend the United States. I hope that today we also do not forget one veteran in particular, Amir Hekmati, who continues to be unjustly held in Iran for his service to our country.
 
“For Amir, Veterans Day is once again marked behind bars of a prison cell on the other side of the world. He has been separated from his family for over four years and has had to endure unimaginable conditions. Yet despite being the longest held political prisoner in Iran, Amir continues to show incredible resolve in the face of prolonged injustice. He is innocent and has suffered enough. It is time for him to come home to Michigan.
 
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Amir Hekmati and his service to our country.
 
“If Iran wants to taken seriously in the global community, it cannot hold political prisoners like Amir Hekmati. Congress and the world are watching Iran’s actions. It must release Amir and the other innocent Americans it is holding.”
Nov. 10, 2015 in a statement
 
 
Photo credits: Hassan Rouhani by Robin Wright, Jason Rezaian, Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Robert Levinson via Facebook