DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – The sister of a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Iran on espionage charges says she’s worried and shocked that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he’s not familiar with her brother’s case.

Sarah Hekmati said in a telephone interview Wednesday that she believes it would be “impossible” for the Iranian president not to know about Amir Hekmati.

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

Ahmadinejad is visiting New York to address the U.N. General Assembly and spoke to The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday. He claimed he was unaware of Amir Hekmati, a graduate of Flint Central High School who was arrested while visiting his grandmothers in Iran in August 2011.

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

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.

Sarah Hekmati said 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?”

The 29-year-old’s family held a news conference Tuesday to renew pleas for his release and more than 60 people gathered for a prayer vigil Tuesday night at Mott Community College in Flint.

The U.S. government has repeatedly denied that Amir Hekmati is a spy. In August, the State Department raised concerns about his health following reports that he had lost a lot of weight.

Amir Hekmati’s mother, Benhaz Hekmati, was able to see her son several times during a visit to Iran last winter. But since then, contact has been limited. His family says they are desperately trying to reach him because his father was diagnosed last week with an inoperable brain tumor.

Amir Hekmati’s family said they hope Ahmadinejad raises concern about his case upon returning home “so the wise leaders there can make a decision and let him come home.”

TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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