By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday, June 15, the US House of Representatives voted unanimously for a resolution calling for the release of Americans being held as political prisoners by Iran. US Representative Bradley Byrne said that the US should not make any deal with Iran until these Americans are released from their captivity.
Congressman Byrne said in a statement, “As the State Department negotiates with Iran over their nuclear program, we often forget that Iran is holding three Americans as political prisoners. Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, and Pastor Saeed Abedini are all in Iraqi prisons. Before the United States makes any “deals” with Iran, these Americans must be released.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) said in a statement, “Tonight, the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.Res. 233 by a vote of 391-0. The resolution calls on Iran to immediately release the three US citizens currently wrongfully imprisoned there, and provide any information it has about American citizens who have disappeared within its borders. The ACLJ has been fighting on Capitol Hill and around the world to help save American Pastor Saeed Abedini – a U.S. citizen – from his wrongful imprisonment in Iran, where he’s beaten and tormented for his Christian faith. Next week marks a troubling milestone – 1,000 days of imprisonment for Pastor Saeed.”
The Resolution was passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 2nd and reads in full: “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran should immediately release the three United States citizens that it holds, as well as provide all known information on any United States citizens that have disappeared within its borders. Whereas three United States citizens have been held captive in Iran, some of them for multiple years; Whereas one United States citizen disappeared in Iran over eight years ago; and Whereas Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has stated that his government wishes to engage in a constructive interaction with the world: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that Iran should release all detained United States citizens immediately and provide any information it possesses regarding any United States citizens that have disappeared within its borders.”
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Michigan) wrote the resolution. Hekmati’s family lives in Congressman Kildee’s Flint, Michigan district. Rep. Kildee said that the prisoners shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip. “It’s important that we remember these names. These are individuals. They are not just pawns in a geopolitical struggle between Iran and the rest of the world.”
The ACLJ wrote in their statement, “Our work is not yet done and the fight is not yet over until Pastor Saeed is home here in the United States with his family. Here’s the concern: Time is running out. The nuclear negotiations with Iran are scheduled to end by June 30th.”
June 30 has been set as the deadline by international negotiators to reach a final deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
Lawmakers want the three political prisoners released and they would like for Iran to share any information they might have about former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran over eight years ago.
The Ranking Member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) said, “You would think the Iranian regime would want to start acting favorably so we in Congress might look favorably upon any deal that might be reached.”
Hekmati was arrested in 2011 while visiting his grandmother in Iran. Iranian TV later accused him of spying for the CIA. Rezaian is under trial in a Revolutionary Court for allegations of espionage. Pastor Abedini has been imprisoned and charged with threatening national security by leading Christian house churches.
The Senate passed a similar resolution in May.
Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District.
Original reporting by The Hill’s Cristina Marcos contributed to this report.