New York Times
LONDON — Iran’s Revolutionary Court has sentenced to death a former United States military serviceman of Iranian descent on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported on Monday.
The former serviceman, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, is the first American to receive a death sentence in Iran since the Islamic Revolution more than 30 years ago ushered in the estrangement in American-Iranian relations that has reached new levels of tension in recent months. Mr. Hekmati’s family in the United States has insisted he is no spy and was merely visiting family in Iran.
“It’s a very shocking sentence,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group that has been following Mr. Hekmati’s case.
Mr. Hekmati, who has been imprisoned in Iran since August, had been charged by prosecutors with receiving espionage training at American bases in Afghanistan and Iraq before infiltrating Iran.
The Fars agency said he was sentenced to death for “cooperating with the hostile country and spying for the C.I.A.”
“The court found him Corrupt on Earth and Mohareb (waging war on God),” according to Fars. The formulation is routinely used in cases against alleged enemies of the Islamic Republic, and the charge carries the death sentence.
Mr. Hekmati’s detention became public last month when Iranian state television broadcast video of him. It identified him as an American-born Iranian-American from Arizona.
In the video, the man identified as Mr. Hekmati said he joined the United States Army after graduating from high school in 2001, served in Iraq and received training in languages and espionage.
He said he was sent to Iran by the C.I.A. to gain the trust of the Iranian authorities by handing over information, some misleading and some accurate. If his first mission was successful, he said he was told, there would be more missions.
The claims in the video could not be verified at the time. The C.I.A. declined to comment after the broadcast on Dec. 18.
In the televised confession, Mr. Hekmati was shown speaking in fluent English and Persian. He said he was a C.I.A. operative sent to infiltrate the Iranian intelligence ministry.
Iranian officials said their agents had identified him at the American-run Bagram air base in Afghanistan and tracked him as he infiltrated Iran. Mr. Hekmati’s family in the United States told American news media that he had traveled to Iran to visit his grandmothers and was not a spy.
The United States had demanded Mr. Hekmati’s release and the State Department said last month that Iran had not permitted diplomats from the Swiss Embassy, which represents American interests in Iran, to see him before or during his trial.
Accusations by Iran of espionage inside its borders are common, and Iran often announces that it has captured or executed people it says are spies for Western powers and Israel.
On Sunday, Heydar Moslehi, the Iranian intelligence minister, said Iran had arrested several spies who sought to carry out American plans to disrupt parliamentary elections in March, according to Fars.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Mr. Moslehi said: “Our intelligence apparatus had complete information about the activities of the arrested spies. The detainees were in contact with abroad through cyberspace networks. We arrested them after we obtained full information about their espionage activities.”