Group seeks pardon for ex-Marine convicted in Iran

 FLINT, Mich. (AP) — A Muslim rights organization has asked Iran’s top leader to pardon or grant a retrial for a former U.S. Marine once sentenced to death for spying who now is imprisoned for “cooperating with hostile governments.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a letter Thursday to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that his organization has met twice with Iranian officials in New York about the case of Amir Hekmati.

Walid made the appeal as the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches and ahead of Hekmati’s 31st birthday, which is Monday. He said the organization also would travel to Iran to get Hekmati if he is released.

“We hope that a potential release of Hekmati can assist in a small way in the unthawing of relations between our nations and further empower American Muslims to bridge the gaps between us,” the letter said.

Hekmati, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen born in Arizona and raised in Michigan, was arrested in August 2011 and sentenced to death for spying. Iran’s Supreme Court annulled the sentence. He later was convicted of “cooperating with hostile governments” and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

President Barack Obama’s administration in November asked for Iran to free Hekmati and two other Americans believed held there. Earlier this month, Hekmati’s mother wrote Obama to keep her son’s case in mind.

“I plead that you do not forget Amir, his service, his beautiful smile and his zeal for life,” Behnaz Hekmati wrote. “Our family is constantly reminded that Amir’s case is being raised, but there has been no real progress.”

Hekmati’s family, which lives in the Flint, Michigan, area, says he is innocent and only went to Iran to visit his grandmothers. The U.S. government repeatedly has denied Hekmati is a spy.