“It is time for Jason to come home,” see his family and watch his favorite team, Ali Rezaian told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The cap was a small but vivid symbol of family yearning, frustration and even outright fear over the arrest and trial on seemingly bogus espionage charges of Jason Rezaian, whose closed trial is currently suspended due to religious holidays in Iran.
It’s a trial that raises clear doubts about whether the U.S. should trust Iran at ongoing and widely watched nuclear talks due to climax at month’s end, the panel chairman said.
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Ca.) asked, “Can they be counted on to honor the commitments they make at the negotiating table?” during the hearing focused on Rezaian and three other Americans who have either been imprisoned or disappeared in Iran.
Royce referred to “the so-called trial” of Rezaian. He said the Iranian-American from California was arrested “on trumped up charges and held for over 300 days.” His trial “opened last week shrouded in secrecy.”
Indeed, not even his mother, Mary, who is now in Tehran, is allowed in the courtroom.
Ali Rezaian’s own son asks when his uncle Jason will return, the brother testified, as he also detailed how Jason has suffered debilitating infections, lost 40 pounds and has seen his chronic high blood pressure worsen.
“It is time for Jason to come home. It is time for the families here to be reunited,” said Ali Rezaian, who thanked the Washington Post for its steadfast support in trying to free his brother.
Several other Republican congressmen linked their mistrust of the nuclear talks to the treatment of Rezaian and the three others: Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, who were both tried and sentenced to lengthy jail terms, as well as missing retired FBI agent Robert Levinson.
President Obama has called for the release of all four. The U.S. contends that the charges against Abedini, Hekmati and Rezaian are bogus.
Abedini was asked to renounce his faith and in 2013 was given an eight-year sentence for organizing a group of Christian churches in private homes.
Hekmati was sentenced to death in 2012 for alleged espionage. That was later reduced to a ten-year sentence.
The U.S. believes Levinson was taken into custody when he went missing in 2007. Royce called him “the longest held hostage in American history.” It has been reported that he had worked for the CIA and was on a rogue mission whose disclosure prompted a subsequent agency shake-up.
Democrats have not been inclined to link the prisoners to the ongoing talks. That was underscored even in sympathetic remarks of Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the panel’s top Democrat.
He told the families he couldn’t truly imagine their grief. But he didn’t want to tie their situations into the nuclear talks even as “they [Iran] continue to poke us in the eye and spit in our face” in the treatment of the four Americans.
Poignant family testimony also came from Sarah Hekmati, sister of Amir Hekmati, who was alleged by Iran to be spying for the CIA.
She said his key legal proceeding took 15 minutes during which he was charged and sentenced to death, in part for “waging war against God,” she said.
An appeals court later annulled the death sentence in 2012 and prompted a second trial. He was then convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison.
She indicated that their father has terminal brain cancer, has suffered several strokes and requires 24-hour care.
“He holds out hope of holding Amir in his arms again,” she said.
Ultimately, what should the Congress or the administration do, a congressman asked Levinson’s son, Daniel.
Levinson urged them “to keep up the headlines and keep up the pressures.”
“Remember family members like himself,” he said, “when you’re brushing your teeth, at home with your kids,” he said. “Remember what they’re all missing.”