American television personality Montel Williams wants the Democratic presidential candidates to talk about a Marine veteran imprisoned in Iran, and he’s using his star power to make it happen.
In addition to questions asked by the moderators at Tuesday’s debate, CNN is soliciting questions from anyone via Facebook and Instagram, some of which will end up being asked by Don Lemon. In a video posted to his Facebook page, Williams — who served in the Marine Corps and Navy — asks about Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran held in Iran for more than four years, the longest of any American held there.
“What will the candidates do to bring him home so that his father’s dying wish to see his son just one more time comes true?” Williams asks.
— Montel Williams (@Montel_Williams) October 13, 2015
Born in Arizona to Iranian immigrants in 1983, Amir Hekmati served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps — mostly as a translator — and he was discharged in 2005 as a sergeant. In 2011, he decided to visit his extended family in Tehran, but soon after he arrived, he was arrested and sentenced to death by an Iranian court on charges of spying for the CIA, according to Al Jazeera America.
Iran later released a videotaped confession of Hekmati, where he admitted to being recruited into companies affiliated with the CIA with the goal of infiltrating Iranian intelligence.
“Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN in 2012. “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”
Hekmati’s death sentence was later repealed in March 2012 and a new trial was ordered, though that has yet to take place. He continues to be held in prison in Tehran with little contact with the outside world, though he was able smuggle a letter out of jail, according to The Guardian. In it, in which he addressed Secretary of State John Kerry, he wrote:
For over 2 years I have been held on false charges based solely on confessions obtained by force, threats, miserable prison conditions, and prolonged periods of solitary confinement. This is part of a propaganda and hostage taking effort by Iranian intelligence to secure the release of Iranians abroad being held on security-related charges. Iranian intelligence has suggested through my court-appointed lawyer Mr. Hussein Yazdi Samadi that I be released in exchange for 2 Iranians being held abroad. I had nothing to do with their arrest, committed no crime, and see no reason why the U.S. Government should entertain such a ridiculous proposition.
The debate airs live on CNN at 8:30 p.m. Eastern.