The Forgotten Americans Jailed in Iran

The individuals left out of Obama's deal with the Islamic Republic.

While President Obama continues with his agenda of nuclear talks with the Islamic Republic and attempts to give a legacy to his name, he has completely ignored the fate of several American citizens who are jailed in the Islamic Republic.

No concrete pressure has been put on the Iranian leaders by the Obama administration in order to push the Iranian leaders to release the American prisoners, who have been detained based on religious affiliations or political reasons.

The sole focus of President Obama has been to view Iran from the prism of nuclear talks and reach a deal so that he will be remembered in history as the first American president who reached a nuclear agreement with the U.S.'s longtime foe: The Islamic Republic. In other words, he wants to create a phenomenon such as the historic Nixon-China agreement and Nixon-Mao handshake. Nevertheless, Nixon was looking to begin a new period of Chinese-American relations, not only seeking to meet narcissistic objectives. In addition, the extremist Islamic Republic of Iran is not anything like China.

Consider the case of the Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, who was detained in 2012 and incarcerated in the notorious Evin Prison. The infamous Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) arrested him on ambiguous charges such as endangering national security. The question is how building orphanage in the Northern city of Rash and helping orphans are endangering the national security of the Islamic Republic.

The Iranian government never made their allegations and reasons behind imprisoning Abedini clear or public. In addition, this reveals other hypocritical and double-standard aspects of the Iranian Islamic constitution. The consitution indicates that the religion of Christianity is one of the officially recognized religions in Iran. But how is it “officially recognized” if one cannot practice his faith without ongoing governmental harassment?

President Obama needs to use the nuclear talks to pressure the Iranian clerics to release Saeed Abedini so he can live with his family in peace. Instaed, currently Saeed Abedini has to write moving letters to his family from a harsh prison in Iran. On his son's seventh birthday, Mr. Abedini wrote a heartbreaking letter that began,

To my dear beloved son Jacob,

I saw your beautiful birthday invitation that you had made me and I know how much you want me to be there on your birthday. Daddy loves you so much.  I long to be there for your birthday and to make this reunion happen, but my chains are keeping me from you[.]

Even the UN has been more vocal calling for the release of the American citizen Abedini than President of the United States. A report from United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention pointed out that Saeed Abedini "has been deprived of his liberty for peacefully exercising the rights to freedom of religion, belief, and association."

Another young prisoner is Amir Mirza Hekmati, a former United States Marine. IRGC arrested Hekmati on charges such as being "corrupt on Earth (Mofsed e filarz)”  and “an enemy of God “Mohareb." He was sentenced to death and is currently serving time in prison awaiting another secretive retrial.

Another example is the case of the American citizen and journalist Jason Rezaian, who was arrested for his writings and publications on Iranian culture. This journalist was charged with other vague crimes such as espionage, “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment.”

He was tried in the Islamic Revolutionary Court and neither the charges against him nor the trial has ever been made public.

The American Center for Law and Justice, which is pushing for the realese of Pastor Abedini, said in a statement,

“In the wake of President Obama’s announcement that a framework for a deal with Iran has been reached on nuclear negotiations, it is critical that our government use this unique opportunity – as our two nations continue to sit at the negotiating table over the next few weeks and months – to bring Pastor Saeed and the other wrongfully imprisoned Americans home to their families.”

What the President can do at a minimum is to make the final nuclear deal and removal of economic sanctions contingent on the release of these American citizens who are imprisoned unjustly and solely based on their religious backgrounds or being an American citizen.

I believe this is the most crucial responsibility and duty of any US President -- to protect his country's citizens. President Obama has the political tools to do it right now.

But the major question is: Rather than appeasing the ruling clerics of the Islamic Republic, will President Obama seek the opportunity and defend American citizens, which is his primary responsibility as the President of the United States?

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