5 American Political Prisoners Spending New Year’s Far From Home

2014 has been a year of loss for American citizens held overseas, but it has also been a year of homecoming. The family of James Foley, an international reporter captured in Syria and held captive by ISIL, lost their son when he was brutally killed earlier this year. Bowe Bergdahl was returned to the United States after five years held captive in Afghanistan, welcomed back by his family. Earlier in December Alan Gross was released from Cuba, able to come home to his wife Judy Gross after 15 years of imprisonment there. Kenneth Bae and Matthew Todd Miller were both returned to the U.S. after being imprisoned in North Korea as of November of this year. However, the fate of many Americans imprisoned overseas has yet to be decided, meaning many Americans will spend the New Year’s holiday far from home, still awaiting release. Let’s take a moment to remember just a few of the men and women still waiting to return to their families.

1. Robert Levinson

Levinson is an appropriate person to begin with, because he is at present the longest held American prisoner. Levinson was a government employee who went missing in 2007 in Iran while working for the CIA. His family shared one of his last voice mails to show “everything that is good and right about our amazing dad” in March of this year.

2. Jason Rezaian

Rezaian was working as a reporter for the Washington Post when he was arrested in Iran. He was tried and charged in a courtroom in December. Rezaian has duel citizenship and is being charged with unlisted crimes. “The United States is deeply disappointed and concerned by reports that the Iranian judiciary has charged Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian with unspecified charges,” read a statement from Secretary of State John Kerry in early December. “I am personally dismayed and disturbed at these reports as I have repeatedly raised Jason’s case, and the other cases of detained or missing U.S. citizens, directly with Iranian officials.”

3. Saeed Abedini

Abedini is an American pastor currently being held prisoner in Iran. He is serving an eight-year sentence for religious activity — namely meeting with other Christians in a private home. His wife, Naghmeh Abedini, read a letter written from prison on Fox News, discussing the prejudice he faces for his conversion and his family’s third year without him home for Christmas.

4. Amir Hekmati

Hekmati, a former-U.S. Marine, has been imprisoned in Iran since August 2011. He was at one point charged with spying for the CIA — something both the U.S. and his family say is untrue. His family has said he was visiting his grandmother who lived in Tehran. On December 30, Jeff Rathke, director of the U.S. Department of State Press Office, fielded questions on whether or not the U.S. government had been considered for an exchange with the Iranian government. Rathke denied this to be true, but said, “We do, however, call on the Iranian Government to release Amir Hekmati immediately as well as detained U.S. citizens Saeed Abedini and Jason Razaian, and to assist us in locating Robert Levinson so that they all can be returned to their families as soon as possible.”

5. Warren Weinstein

Weinstein has been held captive in Pakistan since 2011 when he was kidnapped while working on U.S. government programs. His health, in his last video released by al-Qaeda provided by the Washington Post, was not strong, and his family has spoken of their pain and frustration at his condition and continued imprisonment. At the time of the video’s release, Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, said the U.S. government had called for his release, but that “concessions” for prisoners is not the policy of the U.S., but that various government agency would continue to work toward bringing Weinstein home.

The government tells us that they are working on my father’s case. But we don’t have any specific information about what is being done to bring him home,” said Weinstein’s daughter, Alisa Weinstein, to PBS. “So that’s been very frustrating for us, especially when there’s no word of any progress … Sometimes, we’ll get in touch with our government contacts to say, ‘Are you still working on this?’ because we hear nothing.”

This is only a small sample of those American citizens who are currently far from home, and accordingly only a small sample of unjustly held citizens of all nationalities who have been kidnapped, arrested, or who have disappeared for unjust reasons, and whose imprisonment is inhumane.

Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS

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