Iran executes British-Iranian accused of spying

  • Alireza Akbari was a former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister
  • Arrested in 2019, he is accused of spying for Britain
  • Execution weighs further on strained ties with West
  • UK’s Sunak calls it ‘an insensitive and cowardly act’
  • US joins UK in condemning ‘barbaric act’

DUBAI/LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) – Iran has executed a British-Iranian national who was once its deputy defense minister, its judiciary said, defying calls from London and Washington for his release after was sentenced to death for spying for Britain.

Britain, which had declared the case against Alireza Akbari politically motivated, condemned the execution, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling it a “ruthless and cowardly act committed by a barbaric regime”.

Akbari, 61, was arrested in 2019.

Iran’s Mizan Justice News Agency reported the execution without saying when it took place. Late Friday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had urged Iran not to follow through with the sentence.

Also condemned by the United States and France, the execution is expected to further aggravate Iran’s longstanding relationship with the West, which has deteriorated since talks to revive its 2015 nuclear deal came to a head. deadlock and after Tehran unleashed a deadly crackdown on protesters last year.

In an audio recording purportedly of Akbari and broadcast by BBC Persian on Wednesday, he said he confessed to crimes he did not commit after extensive torture.

“Alireza Akbari, who was sentenced to death for corruption on earth and large-scale action against the internal and external security of the country through espionage for the intelligence services of the British government (…) was executed,” Mizan said.

The Mizan report accused Akbari of receiving payments of 1,805,000 euros ($1.95 million), 265,000 pounds ($323,989.00) and $50,000 for espionage.

Cleverly stated in a statement, the execution “would not go unchallenged”. He then announced that Britain had summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires, imposed sanctions on Iran’s attorney general and temporarily withdrawn its ambassador from Tehran for further consultations.

This is a rare case where the Islamic Republic has executed a serving or former senior official. One of the last occasions was in 1984, when Iranian navy commander Bahram Afzali was executed after being accused of spying for the Soviet Union.

British statements on the case did not address the Iranian accusation that Akbari spied for Britain.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned the British ambassador for what it called “London’s interference in Iran’s national security sphere”, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Iranian state media, which has portrayed Akbari as a super spy, released a video on Thursday it said showed he played a role in the 2020 assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, killed in an attack outside Tehran, which authorities have blamed at the time on Israel.

In the video, Akbari did not confess his involvement in the assassination but said a British agent had requested information about Fakhrizadeh.

Iranian state media often broadcast alleged confessions of suspects in politically motivated cases.

Reuters could not establish the authenticity of the state media video and audio, or when or where they were recorded.

Akbari was a close ally of Ali Shamkhani, now secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who served as defense minister from 1997 to 2005. Akbari fought in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s as a as a member of the Revolutionary Guards.

Former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Alireza Akbari speaks during an interview with Khabaronline in Tehran, Iran, in this undated photo obtained January 12, 2023. Khabaronline/WANA (WANA Asian News Agency West)/Handout via REUTERS

Ramin Forghani, a nephew of Akbari, told Reuters the execution came as a shock.

“I don’t think a person who has spent his whole life, from an early age, serving the country – since the Iran-Iraq war – would spy for any country,” he said, noting that Akbari held the rank of colonel in the Revolutionary Guards.

Speaking by phone from Luxembourg, he said Akbari’s wife, who lives in London, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Iranian officials to spare his life. Reuters could not reach her.

“DESPICABLE AND BARBARIC”

The US State Department described the execution as politically motivated and unjust. The US Ambassador to London called it “appalling and sickening”. French President Emmanuel Macron called it a “despicable and barbaric act”.

Iran’s ties to the West have also been strained by its support for Russia in Ukraine, where Western states claim Moscow has used Iranian drones.

Like other Western states, Britain, which has long had strained ties with Iran, has strongly criticized Tehran’s crackdown on anti-government protests sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman. in September.

Iran has handed down dozens of death sentences in the crackdown, executing at least four people.

A British minister said on Thursday that Britain was actively considering outlawing the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization but had not made a final decision.

In the recording broadcast by BBC Persian, Akbari said he made a false confession due to torture.

“With over 3,500 hours of torture, psychedelic drugs, and physiological and psychological pressure methods, they took away my will. They drove me to the brink of madness…and forced me to do false confessions by force of arms and death threats,” he said.

Amnesty International said the execution again showed Tehran’s “heinous attack on the right to life”. In Akbari’s case, “it’s particularly horrifying given the abuses he revealed he suffered in prison.”

Iranian authorities have not responded to Akbari’s accusations of being tortured.

An Iranian state television report – the details of which Reuters could not independently verify – said he was arrested for espionage in 2008 before being released on bail and leaving Iran.

In an interview with BBC Persian aired on Friday, Akbari’s brother Mehdi said he returned to Iran in 2019 at the invitation of Shamkhani.

($1 = 0.9235 euros)

($1 = 0.8179 pounds)

Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Michael Holden in London, Tassilo Hummel in Paris and Kanishka Singh in Washington; Written by Tom Perry; Editing by William Mallard, Angus MacSwan, Tomasz Janowski and Christina Fincher

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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