Iran Sentences U.S. Man To Death On Spying Charges
January 09, 2012
An Iranian court has sentenced an Iranian-American man to death on charges of spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The ISNA news agency quotes Iran's attorney general, Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, as saying that Amir Mirza Hekmati was sentenced to death for "cooperating with the hostile country America and spying" for the CIA.
Mohseni-Ejei also confirmed an earlier report by the semi-official Fars news agency quoting the verdict against Hekmati as guilty of being "corrupt on Earth" and of "mohareb," or waging war against God.
In Washington, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. State Department is working through Swiss contacts in Tehran to confirm the report.
"If true, we strongly condemn this verdict," she said. "Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA, are simply untrue."
She said the Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.
"We urge the Iranian government to grant the Swiss protecting power immediate access to Mr. Hekmati, grant him access to legal counsel, and release him without delay," Nuland said. The U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.
Mohseni-Ejei said Hekmati had 20 days to appeal, without specifying when the sentence was handed down.
"These accusations against Hekmati show only with thing: That this case is politically motivated," Abdul Karim Lahiji, vice president of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, told RFE/RL's Radio Farda. "Over the last decade, there have been numerous cases like this where people were accused [by the Iranian regime] for the same reasons -- and they are usually convicted."
Hekmati, a 28-year-old U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, was accused by Iran's Intelligence Ministry of receiving training at U.S. bases in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.
Iran's judiciary said earlier that Hekmati had admitted to having links with the CIA, but also said Hekmati had maintained that he had no intention of harming Iran.
In December, video footage broadcast by Iranian state television showed Hekmati saying that he had been trained in intelligence by the U.S. military and sent to Tehran to become a double agent for the CIA from within the Intelligence Ministry.
U.S. officials say Hekmati was obviously under duress when he made that videotaped confession.
The Iranian official who announced the court's verdict today, Mohseni-Ejei, is himself on an EU sanctions list for human rights abuses that include orchestrating the torture of Iranian opposition supporters to extract confessions from them after the disputed June 2009 presidential election.
Hekmati's relatives in the United States also maintain that they think he was forced to make the confession.
They say Hekmati, a former member of the U.S. Marines, had worked as a translator for the U.S. military in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Family Questions Trial Proceedings
They claim he had gone to Tehran to visit his grandmothers when he was arrested by Iranian authorities four months ago.
Prominent Iranian lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei told RFE/RL's Radio Farda from Norway today that Iranian prosecutors usually seek the death penalty for the charge of "waging war against God."
"A moherabi [someone who wages war against God] is involved with groups who are against the government," Mostafaei said. "They attack the government by means of force. Or a moharebi is someone who supports terrorist groups."
Mostafaei also questioned the legitimacy of the charge of "cooperating with the hostile country America" because the United States is not at war with Iran.
"America is not considered to be a hostile country by legal definition," he said. "The reason for a country being considered hostile is if there is a state of war between that country and Iran."
In a statement in December, Hekmati's family complained that he was not getting a fair trial. Their statement said his only lawyer in Iran was a government-appointed attorney who did not meet with him until the first day of the trial.
The family also said they had tried to hire "at least 10 different attorneys" for Hekmati "to no avail."
Hekmati was born in Arizona and graduated from a high school in Michigan. His father, Ali Hekmati, is a science professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan.
Ali Hekmati says his son is not a CIA spy and that his relatives contacted the U.S. State Department last September after he was arrested.
The announcement of the verdict against Hekmati comes at a time of high tensions between Iran and the West, which have expanded economic sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
Abdul Karim Lahiji, vice president of the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, told RFE/RL that Tehran had a history of using alleged spying cases by journalists, scientists, and other experts as a kind of negotiating chip in its disputes with the West.
"These accusations against Hekmati show only one thing: that this case is politically motivated," Lahiji said.
"Over the last decade, there have been numerous cases like this where people were accused [by the Iranian regime] for the same reasons -- and they are usually convicted."
Earlier on January 9, Iran's intelligence minister said a number of people had been arrested on charges of spying for the United States and trying to disrupt Iran’s March 2 parliamentary elections.
written by Ron Synovitz and Frud Bezhan, with agency reports
Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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