Iran's Revolutionary Court sentenced a 28-year-old American and former Marine to death on charges of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency, adding another point of conflict to heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, who was born in Arizona to Iranian parents and raised in Michigan, is the first American to be sentenced to death in the Islamic Republic of Iran, according to Iranian human-rights groups,according to Wall Street Journal.
A branch of Iran's Revolutionary Court found him to be a "corrupter on Earth" and "waging war on God," the news service reports said, expressions that routinely appear in Iranian court cases. He has 20 days to appeal the sentence. Last month, Iranian state television broadcast video of a purported confession by Hekmati in which he said he had been sent by the CIA to infiltrate Iranian intelligence services. Iran alleges that Hekmati served at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and received specialized training. The Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan and tracked him as he infiltrated Iran. Fars reported that Hekmati repeated the alleged confession at a closed-door trial last month, telling the court that he was "fooled" by the CIA and did not want to "strike a blow" at Iran, reports San Francisco Chronicle.
Behnaz Hekmati, Amir's mother, said in an email to The Associated Press that she and her husband are "shocked and terrified" that their son has been sentenced to death. The verdict is "the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair," she said. Her son did not engage in spying, she said. "Amir is not a criminal. His very life is being exploited for political gain." In an alleged confession broadcast on Iranian state TV last month, Hekmati said he entered the Army after finishing high school in 2001 and received military and intelligence training including serving as an intelligence analyst in Iraq. He said his key responsibility was to identify Iraqi politicians sympathetic to Americans. He said he had also worked for the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and for Kuma Games, which he described to state TV as "a computer games company which received money from CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion's mindset in the Middle East and distribute them among Middle East residents free of charge. The goal of Kuma Games was to convince the people of the world and Iraq that what the U.S. does in Iraq and other countries is good and acceptable.", informs Pekin Daily Times.
The details of the case against Hekmati have been cloaked in secrecy since he was detained in August in Iran, to which his family said he had traveled to visit his grandparents. Official confirmation that he was even in Iranian custody was not provided until last month. The White House and the State Department, noting that Iranian prosecutors have a history of coercing confessions, denied that Hekmati was a spy.
Iran has a record of arresting and convicting Americans suspected of spying, then freeing them later after bail money has been paid. But rights activists said Hekmati's case was the first in the nearly 33-year history of estranged relations with the United States in which Iran's Islamic authorities had ordered the execution of an American citizen, says San Antonio Express.