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U.S. Citizen and Former Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati Sentenced to Death in Iran over Alleged CIA Spying

An American-born former Marine of Iranian ancestry whose family claims he was in Iran visiting his grandmothers has been arrested and sentenced to death for allegedly spying for the CIA.

The Associated Press reports that 28-year-old Amir Mirzaei Hekmati has been tried and sentenced to death for espionage. This is the first time that a U.S. citizen has been sentenced to death in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution brought the current regime to power.

U.S. officials, Hekmati’s family and human rights groups deny the espionage allegations and call on authorities in Tehran to release him.

“Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA, are simply untrue,”  State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told the AP. “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

“A grave error has been committed, and we have authorized our legal representatives to make direct contact with the Iranian authorities to find a solution to this misunderstanding,” Hekmati’s mother Behnaz said in a statement to the AP. “We pray that Iran will show compassion and not murder our son, Amir, a natural-born American citizen, who was visiting Iran and his relatives for the first time.”

“We are seriously concerned regarding the death sentence, secrecy, and continued lack of transparency surrounding the prosecution,” Hadi Ghaemi, a spokesman for New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran told the AP.

In a video broadcast throughout Iran last month, Hekmati “confessed” to being part of a plot to infiltrate the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. Officials there said Iranian agents had identified Hekmati before he even arrived in Iran at Bagram Air Base in next-door Afghanistan.

The U.S. Marines confirmed that Hekmati served from 2001 to 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004.

Although he is an American citizen, Iran considers anyone whose father is Iranian to be solely an Iranian citizen.

It is quite possible that Iran is holding Hekmati as a bargaining chip during these tense times as the United States has stepped up pressure on the Tehran regime over its alleged nuclear weapons program. While even U.S. Secretary of State Leon Panetta admitted today that Iran is not working on a nuclear bomb, Tehran’s development of nuclear technology for what it claims are peaceful purposes well within a sovereign nation’s rights has alarmed leaders from Washington to Brussels to Tel Aviv.

Hekmati’s sentence mirrors those of other Americans arrested and convicted of spying in Iran. Three young hikers were apprehended along the Iran-Iraq border and charged with espionage in 2009. One of them, Sarah Shourd, was released after a year in prison. The others, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, were freed last September thanks to behind-the-scenes diplomacy by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Omani and Swiss diplomats.

Reza Taghavi, an Iranian-American businessman, was imprisoned in Iran for 29 months, accused of involvement in a terrorist attack in Shiraz that killed 14 people. He was released last year.

Iranian-American freelance journalist and former Miss North Dakota Roxana Saberi was convicted of espionage but was freed in May 2009 as a gesture of “Islamic mercy.”


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