The Iranian government announced on Monday morning that it has arrested former United States Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati for spying and sentenced him to death, as reported by the Associated Press:
Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission. The radio report did not say when the verdict was issued. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.
The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from a high school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.
Hekmati, born in Arizona to a community-college professor of Iranian origin, has dual citizenship in Iran and the U.S. – but that’s no obstacle for the theocracy, as they don’t recognize dual citizenship. Not only was he accused of spying, but the Tehran Revolutionary Court declared him “a fighter against God” and “one who spreads corruption on Earth.”
Hekmati has been under arrest for a while now. As the BBC reports, the Iranian government got a “confession” out of him on state-controlled television in mid-December:
Iranian officials said his cover was blown even before he had arrived in the country, because he had been spotted by Iranian agents at the US-run Bagram military air base in neighbouring Afghanistan.
On 18 December, Mr Hekmati was shown on Iranian state television allegedly confessing to being part of a plot to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence services for the CIA.
Televised confessions form a central part of Iran’s political and judicial system, the BBC’s Iran correspondent James Reynolds says. But human rights organisations strongly question their validity.
During his trial later in December, according to Fars, Mr Hekmati admitted he did have links to the CIA, but had never intended to harm Iran.
“I was deceived by the CIA… Although I was appointed to break into Iran’s intelligence systems and act as a new source for the CIA, I had no intention of undermining the country,” Fars quoted him as saying.
The U.S. State Department is demanding Hekmati’s release, as well as asking for Swiss diplomats in Iran to be given access to the prisoner, as the United States does not currently have diplomatic personnel in-country. As a State Department spokeswoman told the BBC, “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent foreigners for political reasons.” Fifteen other people were indicted of spying for America and Israel last week.
The Hekmati death sentence was imposed against a backdrop of tightening sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Iran is also still rumbling about closing the Straits of Hormuz, which would be “crossing a red line” and would prompt American armed forces to “take action and reopen the strait,” according to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.