FLINT, Mich. (AP) — One of five Americans released from captivity in Iran soon will be reunited with his Michigan family members for the first time in 4 ½ years, a congressman expected to attend the meeting said Sunday.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee told reporters in Flint that he’s joining relatives of Amir Hekmati and can’t wait to meet him in person. Kildee said he’s flying later Sunday with Hekmati’s relatives to a U.S. base in Germany. The contingent expected to meet Hekmati on Monday includes two sisters and a brother-in-law.
The former Marine’s release was part of an extraordinary weekend of diplomacy that saw the release of five Americans and the lifting of billions in international sanctions on Iran as part of a nuclear accord.
“(Hekmati is) somebody that I’ve been working to free and a person that I feel like I’ve come to know ever since I came to Congress, though I’ve never spoken to him on the phone (and) I’ve never had the chance to meet him,” Kildee said. “That changes (Monday).”
Hekmati was detained in August 2011 on espionage charges. His family says he has lost significant weight and has trouble breathing, raising fears he could contract tuberculosis. Hekmati says he went to Iran to visit family and spend time with his ailing grandmother. After his arrest, family members say they were told to keep the matter quiet.
He was convicted of spying and sentenced to death in 2012. After a higher court ordered a retrial, he was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years on a lesser charge.
Hekmati was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. He and his family deny any wrongdoing, and say his imprisonment has included physical and mental torture and long periods of solitary confinement in a tiny cell.
“There was a moment in time when he was told that his mother had died in a car accident,” Kildee said. “He was treated very poorly.”
Hekmati’s mother and father are alive, though in recent years his father was diagnosed with brain cancer and had a stroke. Hekmati’s parents are staying in Michigan because of his father’s poor health.
Kildee, who read from a family statement that expressed gratitude to the U.S. government and those who have shared thoughts and prayers, was overcome with emotion at one point and had to pause.
It’s not clear when Hekmati will return to the Flint area, since he must undergo medical tests and a government debriefing. Still, Kildee said, he sees “a lot of great days ahead” for the Hekmati family, and added “this is the greatest of all.”
Kildee said Hekmati will be his guest at next year’s State of the Union address. Kildee left an empty seat in honor of Hekmati in 2015 and took Hekmati’s sister, Sarah Hekmati, earlier this year.
“This is just surreal,” Kildee said. “We actually didn’t know if the day would ever come.”
Karoub reported from Detroit.