Iran’s Supreme Court sentenced an Iranian-British citizen to death on charges of spying for the United Kingdom.
Alireza Akbari was given the death penalty for “corruption on Earth and for harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence”, Iran’s judicial news agency Mizan Online reported on Wednesday.
The former defence ministry official was described by Iran’s intelligence ministry as “one of the most important infiltrators of the country’s sensitive and strategic centres”.
Citing a statement from the intelligence ministry, Mizan said Akbari became a “key spy” for the United Kingdom’s “Secret Intelligence Service” – MI6 – because of “the importance of his position”.
On February 2, 2019, the official government newspaper Iran published an interview with Akbari, whom it identified as a “former deputy defence minister in the reformist government” of Mohammad Khatami, who served as Iranian president from 1997 to 2005.
The UK’s foreign minister, James Cleverly, called the planned execution “politically motivated” and demanded Akbari’s immediate release.
“This is a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life,” Cleverly wrote on Twitter.
Iran must halt the execution of British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari and immediately release him.
This is a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life.
— James Cleverly🇬🇧 (@JamesCleverly) January 11, 2023
“We are supporting the family of Mr Akbari and have repeatedly raised his case with the Iranian authorities,” a British foreign office spokesperson said in a statement. “Our priority is securing his immediate release and we have reiterated our request for urgent consular access.”
Eighteen people so far have reportedly been sentenced to death in connection with the protests. Of them, four were executed, setting off an international outcry, following expedited trials that the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said did not meet the minimum guarantees of a fair trial.
Iran is “weaponising” the death penalty, attempting to crush dissent by frightening the public with the execution of protesters, the UN said on Tuesday.
“Criminal proceedings and the death penalty are being weaponised by the Iranian government to punish individuals participating in protests, and to strike fear into the population so as to stamp out dissent, in violation of international human rights law,” OHCHR said.
“The weaponisation of criminal procedures to punish people for exercising their basic rights – such as those participating in or organising demonstrations – amounts to state-sanctioned killing,” Volker Turk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the UN was against the imposition of the death penalty in all circumstances.
“However, in these instances, what we have seen is a lack of due process; charges that are completely spurious and don’t make sense,” she told a news briefing.
“These are charges of corruption on Earth and waging war against God, which are very vaguely worded.”
She said there were also serious allegations of torture, mistreatment and humiliating treatment before the executions.
“In such circumstances, these executions amount to an arbitrary deprivation of life,” Shamdasani said.