An American of Iranian descent has been sentenced to death by a court in Tehran for allegedly spying for the CIA.
Former Marine Amir Mirzai Hekmati was “sentenced to death for cooperating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism,” semi-official Fars news agency said.
The 28-year-old’s US-based family say he was in Iran visiting grandparents.
The sentence comes at a time of fresh tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Lisa Mullins speaks with the BBC’s Mohsen Asgari about the case.
Read the Transcript
The text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to firstname.lastname@example.org. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
Lisa Mullins: I’m Lisa Mullins and this is The World. Today, the United States urged Iran to release Amir Hekmati. He’s a 28-year-old American of Iranian descent and he’s been sentenced to death in Iran on charges of being a CIA agent. US officials have denied the charges and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland did so again today.
Victoria Nuland: If it is true that he has been so sentenced we would condemn this verdict in the strongest terms, and we are working with all of our partners to convey that condemnation to the Iranian government. We’ve maintained from the beginning that the charges against him were a fabrication and we call on the Iranian government to release him immediately.
Mullins: That’s Victoria Nuland. Amir Hekmati is a former marine and a dual US and Iranian citizen. He claims he was in Iran to visit his grandmother’s, but that did not stop his trial from going forward.
Amir Hekmati: [speaking Arabic]
Mullins: Hekmati’s supposed confession was aired last month on Iranian state TV. In it he describes being part of a plot to infiltrate Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. Hekmati is the latest in a long list of US-Iranian dual citizens to face such a charge in Iran. The BBC’s Mohsen Asgari is following this case and the reaction to it in Tehran.
Mohsen Asgari: Actually, Iran has frequently accused America of sabotaging this system in the country or seeking for undermining its regime by doing some covert operational activities. So this is something very normal and usually the people in Iran don’t pay attention to these things a lot because they are obsessed with their economy problems. And they have heard a lot about the fact that some American citizens have been arrested by the Iranian system, but at the end they all have been released. In July 2009 remember that three Americans had been arrested and they had been kept in Iran for 2-1/2 years with the same accusations, but finally they were released on bail.
Mullins: So what does that say about the chances of this particular American, Amir Hekmati, being released as well?
Asgari: It’s a political thing I think because in recent weeks we have been receiving a lot of threatening messages from American officials against Iran. And they are talking about widening the sanctions on Iran’s economy. On the other side Iran has launched a military exercise and have test fired a lot of missiles at the Persian Gulf, threatening America. So this is a war of words between the two sides and this is a very risky threat I think if they want to execute this person. It is a [declaration] of war against America I think and the stake is so high potentially that no one wants it to happen.
Mullins: One other thing about that, if you’re saying you can’t separate the global politics from the individual court cases like the case against this American accused of spying, what is Iran saying is its strongest evidence that Mr. Hekmati is indeed a spy?
Asgari: Iranian system has not posted any documents yet accept the confession of Mr. Hekmati that was shown on Iran’s state TV saying that he has been deceived by the CIA to infiltrate into Iran’s security system and implicate Iran in terror reason. This is the whole document that we have heard so far. But their point is that Iran is trying to increase its bargaining power in the run up to the supposedly nuclear talks because Iran has at the same time sent a letter to 5-plus-1 countries to pave the ground for a fresh round of nuclear talks. By means of these things Iran is trying to increase its bargaining power.
Mullins: All right, Mohsen Asgari, thank you.
Asgari: You’re welcome.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at email@example.com.
Read tweets about Iran