News / Middle East

US Presses Iran to Release American Sentenced for Spying

Iranian-American Amir Mirza Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the charge of spying for the CIA, speaks during a recorded interview in an undisclosed location, in this undated still image taken from video by Reuters
Iranian-American Amir Mirza Hekmati, who has been sentenced to death by Iran's Revolutionary Court on the charge of spying for the CIA, speaks during a recorded interview in an undisclosed location, in this undated still image taken from video by Reuters

The United States is pressing Iran to release an American man who has been sentenced to death by an Iranian court on charges of spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. This comes at a time of rising tensions between the United States and Iran.

The White House and State Department say allegations that Amir Mirza Hekmati - an Iranian American dual citizen - worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false, adding that if reports of the death sentence are true, the United States strongly condemns it.

A U.S. statement says Iran's government "has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons."

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency says Hekmati was sentenced for ties to the CIA and for cooperating with a “hostile country." Iran state TV has shown Hekmati making what was called a confession in Farsi and English.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say what options the Obama administration considering beyond working through Swiss intermediaries in Tehran.

"I don't want to speculate about that. I think that we take this matter very seriously and are addressing it in the appropriate manner," said Carney.

State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this kind of behavior is typical for Iran.

"This is not a new tactic on the part of the Iranian government. I would simply say that these particular proceedings were conducted in secret, there was inadequate legal counsel. We obviously dismiss the accusations one way or the other; we believe that any confession he may have made was clearly coerced. So it is just par for the course in terms of the non-justice in the Iranian system," said Nuland.

All of this comes amid rising tensions between Iran, and the U.S. and international partners over Tehran's threats to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to new Western sanctions targeting Iran's oil exports.

Recently, Iran confirmed it has begun enriching uranium at a second underground facility. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and that the new enrichment is taking place under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision.

Amnesty International issued a statement on Monday saying Hekmati, a 28-year-old former U.S. Marine Arabic translator, did not receive a fair trial and questioning what it called "the timing and political circumstances" of Hekmati's sentence.

The human rights monitoring group appealed to Iran not to execute Hekmati, noting that an appeal against his conviction would have to be filed within 20 days of his sentencing.

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