TEHRAN: An Iranian judge sentenced a US-Iranian man to death for spying for the CIA, media reported on Monday, exacerbating high tensions in the face of Western sanctions on the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme.
Amir Mirzai Hekmati, a 28-year-old former Marine born in the United States to an Iranian family, was “sentenced to death for cooperating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism,” the judge in Tehran ruled, the Fars and ISNA news agencies reported.
The United States condemned the reported death sentence and said allegations that Hekmati worked for the CIA were ‘false.’
Hekmati has 20 days to appeal, ISNA quoted chief prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei as saying, without specifying when the sentence was handed down.
The accused was shown on state television in mid-December saying in fluent Farsi and English that he was a Central Intelligence Agency operative sent to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence ministry. He had been arrested months earlier.
Iranian officials said his cover was blown by agents for Iran who spotted him at the US-run Bagram military airbase in neighbouring Afghanistan.
But Hekmati’s family in the US told US media he had travelled to Iran to visit his grandmothers and was not a spy.
In his sole trial hearing, on December 27, prosecutors relied on Hekmati’s ‘confession’ to say he tried to penetrate the intelligence ministry by posing as a disaffected former US soldier with classified information to give. Hekmati was tried as an Iranian citizen, not a US one, because Iran does not recognise dual nationality.
The United States condemned the sentence and called on Iran to offer immediate access for Swiss diplomats who take care of US consular issues in Iran to Hekmati, and for him to be provided with legal counsel and released. “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,” spokesman for the US National Security Council said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2012.