The US Senate passed a resolution with a unanimous vote on Monday asking Iran to release three Americans and help search for a fourth.
The resolution from Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) was passed by a 90-0 vote.
The measure calls for three Americans, Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian to be released from Iranian custody and asks for Iran’s support in locating former FBI agent Robert “Bob” Levinson, believed to be missing in Iran since 2007.
Risch was unsparing in his criticism of Iran’s practices and said the four men should have been released before the US sat down at the negotiation table with Iran over a nuclear deal.
“Iran thinks it elevates its position in the world because it does these kind of things. It does not,” he said. “Certainly it shows toughness, but a barbarian kind of toughness that the world is not impressed with at all.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) commented earlier Monday that he believes all senators can concur that “at the very least the American government should not be rewarding Iran for disgraceful human rights abuses.”
A State Department official communicating with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) via email on the condition of anonymity, said that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Undersecretary Wendy Sherman will continue their repeated efforts until all detainees are home.
The same official added that the four Americans “should be returned to their families independently of political negotiations with Iran; their freedom should not be tied to the outcome of these negotiations.”
Saeed Abedini, a dual US-Iran citizen, became a Christian in 2000 and, according to Christian Today, says he travelled to Iran to help build a state-run orphanage.
Iran accuses him of “undermining national security” and “attempting to sway Iranian youth away from Islam.”
He was sentenced to 8 years in prison in Jan. 2013 to which one more year was added because he was accused of having alcohol in prison.
Amir Hekmati is an American citizen who was arrested in Iran in 2011. According to freeamir.org, the ex-marine was charged with espionage and waging war against God and initially sentenced to death.
His death sentence was overturned and he was secretly tried in Dec. 2013 with no defense present. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison for “cooperating with hostile governments.”
Jason Rezaian, Washington Post’s Tehran bureau chief, was taken into custody in July 2014 and after nine months charged with four crimes including “collaborating with hostile governments” and “propaganda against the establishment.”
At the beginning of the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner in April, Christi Parsons, president of the WHCA said that what Rezaian was being charged with,“collecting information about internal and foreign policy,” is “[what] is known as practicing journalism.”
President Obama, speaking at the same dinner, mentioned Rezaian as an unjustly imprisoned journalist, noting he “has been in prison for nothing more than writing about the hopes and fears of the Iranian people.”
The fourth American, Robert Levinson, is a former FBI agent who disappeared during a trip to Iran’s Kish Island and whose whereabouts are declared unknown by Iranian authorities.
“Today, the FBI announced it has increased the reward for information that could lead to Mr. Levinson’s safe return to up to $5 million from $1 million,” read a March statement by the US Department of State.