- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DETROIT (AP) — The sister of a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges said Wednesday that she’s worried and shocked that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he’s not familiar with her brother’s case.

Sarah Hekmati said she believes it would be “impossible” for Mr. Ahmadinejad not to know about Amir Hekmati, who was arrested while visiting his grandmothers in Iran in August 2011. Regardless, she said his family will continue to push for his release.

“It worries me completely,” she said of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks. “I’m very concerned, because I think for a whole year we’ve been trying to diplomatically work with Iran.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad is visiting New York to address the U.N. General Assembly and spoke to the Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

“The judiciary in Iran is independent of my administration and is not tied to me,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, speaking through a translator. “You’ll have to ask them.”

Mr. Hekmati’s family has been using Mr. Ahmadinejad‘s visit to New York to renew their pleas for his release. Ms. Hekmati said Mr. Ahmadinejad‘s comments illustrate why the family wants to reach out and raise awareness of her brother’s case.

“Even if it is true, now he knows about it,” she said. “Now when he goes back to Iran, what is he going to do about it?”

On Tuesday, the family held a news conference with the Council for Islamic-American Relations in suburban Detroit, at which they appealed to Iran to release Mr. Hekmati on humanitarian grounds. His father was diagnosed last week with an inoperable brain tumor, and the family asked that the 29-year-old be allowed to return home to be with his father.

Amir Hekmati was born in Arizona and raised in Michigan. His parents live in the Flint area, where his father, Ali Hekmati, teaches at Mott Community College. About 60 people gathered for a vigil Tuesday at the school to pray for his release.

Amir Hekmati, whom Iran accuses of being a CIA spy, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. His conviction was overturned in January, but he has remained in prison with limited contact with his family. No new trial has been scheduled.

The U.S. government repeatedly denied that Mr. Hekmati is a spy.

Associated Press writer Wendy Benjaminson in New York contributed to this report.