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UN panel urges Iran to free American citizen imprisoned on spying charges

WASHINGTON--A United Nations panel has urged Iran to free a U.S. citizen jailed on espionage charges, saying his trial was not in line with international standards of fairness.

The U.N. Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention faulted Iran for not charging Amir Hekmati for six months after his August 2011 arrest and for letting his lawyer see him only briefly, without access to the case file.

The panel said that Iran's “non-observance of international norms” in the case “is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Hekmati an arbitrary character.”

“The Working Group believes that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the adequate remedy would be to release of Mr. Hekmati and accord him an enforceable right to compensation,” the panel added.

The document said that Iran, which is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, did not respond to requests for comment.

The opinion was issued in August and sent in late November to Hekmati's family, which shared the document recently with AFP.

The Working Group is tasked with investigating cases of arbitrary detention around the world in cooperation with governments but does not have the power to enforce its opinions.

Hekmati, born in the United States to Iranian parents, served as a U.S. Marine and as a private contractor who provided translation services. His family insists he was visiting Iran to see relatives.

In January 2012, an Iranian court sentenced Hekmati to death on charges of spying for the United States, the Islamic republic's sworn enemy. The judiciary later reversed the death sentence but has not released him.

Hekmati's family and U.S. lawmakers have appealed to Iran to free him, saying it would serve as a goodwill gesture after Tehran reached an interim deal with the United States and other powers on suspending its nuclear program.

His sister Sarah Hekmati expressed hope that the U.N. panel's opinion would strengthen the case to free her brother.

Their father Ali Hekmati, who lives in Michigan, has said he is suffering from a brain tumor.

“It's been two years now and it's just been so draining on our family,” Sarah Hekmati said.

“Every month that goes by, we hope that this is the last month we're going to deal with this and we going to hear some good news, and we don't.”

U.S. President Barack Obama raised the case of Hekmati and two other U.S. citizens in a landmark telephone conversation in September with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Since Iran elected the more moderate Rouhani this year, the family has seen hopeful signs with Hekmati's grandmother allowed to visit him.

Obama also sought Rouhani's help to locate Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran six years ago. U.S. news organizations reported this week that Levinson worked for the CIA.

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