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(New York) -- Amnesty International said today Amir Hekmati, an Iranian-American, sentenced to death in Iran for alleged spying for the C.I.A. did not receive a fair trial and had no access to a lawyer, diplomatic assistance or his family -- in violation of international law. The human rights organization called on Iran to set aside the death sentence against the Arizona-born Helmati but said it fears he could be executed within weeks.
Hekmati, 28, who had served as an Arabic translator in the U.S. Marine Corps, was accused of spying for the C.I.A. and sentenced to death for "collaboration with a hostile government." His appeal against this conviction and sentence must be lodged within 20 days.
Hekmati was held without access to his family, a lawyer or consular assistance after his arrest in August last year, in violation of international law.
Before he was tried in December, he was made to participate in a televised "confession" -- a further violation of his right to a fair trial.
Hekmati is the first American to be sentenced to death in Iran since the Islamic revolution in that country more than 30 years ago.
"Like many other detainees in Iran, Amir Hekmati did not receive a fair trial and we question the timing and political circumstances of this decision," said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's interim director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"We know from past experience that the Iranian authorities sometimes rush forward with executions of political prisoners -- including dual nationals -- at politically sensitive times and we fear that this execution could happen within days or weeks."
Elise Auerbach, Iran specialist for Amnesty International USA, said: "The Iranian authorities often air highly suspect confessions which are obtained through coercion or torture. Mr. Hekmati was shown on Iranian television 'confessing' to carrying out espionage against Iran. Amnesty International urges the Iranian authorities to set aside this death sentence.
The death sentence for Hekmati comes at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States, amid announcements that Iran has begun uranium enrichment and the United States has strengthened sanctions against Iran.
The Iranian authorities have executed political prisoners in January over the past two years, in relation to the unrest following the disputed presidential election of 2009.
"The lives of political detainees on death row in Iran are hanging in the balance this month," said Harrison.
These executions have widely been seen as warnings to potential opposition protesters ahead of yearly celebrations marking the February 11 anniversary of the Iranian Revolution when people are encouraged to demonstrate in large numbers in support of the state.
Zahra Bahrami, who held dual Dutch-Iranian nationality, was executed for alleged drugs offenses in January 2011 while awaiting trial on political charges related to the post-election unrest.
Iranian activists on death row include Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani, an alleged supporter of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) who reportedly spent more than 40 months in solitary confinement in various detention centres in Iran, is also facing execution.
Three alleged PMOI supporters -- Ali Saremi, Ja'far Kazemi and Mohammad Ali Haj Aghaei -- were executed in Iranin 2010 and 2011. All men had been convicted of moharebeh (enmity against God) in relation to contacts with the PMOI.
Blogger Vahid Asghari, who had hosted websites critical of the government, was sentenced to death on Friday after conviction in an unfair trial of "corruption on earth" for allegedly organising a "pornographic" network against Islam and the state.
Asghari had been held since May 2008. In October 2009 he said in a letter to a judge that he had been subjected to torture, forced to make a televised "confession" and forced to make spying allegations against high profile blogger Hossein Derakhshan.
Saeed Malekpour, a 36-year-old web designer and permanent resident of
Canada, is also under sentence of death following a retrial on similar charges, which may be linked to Vahid Asghari's case. A previous death sentence was reportedly overturned in June 2011.
The government has officially acknowledged executing 17 people already this year, although Amnesty International has received information suggesting at least 39 people may have been put to death in the first week of 2012 alone.
In December, Amnesty International highlighted a massive wave of executions in Iran throughout 2011, with over 600 people being put to death between the beginning of 2011 and November. Most of these were for drug related offenses.
The scope of the death penalty is very broad in Iran and thousands are believed to remain on death row.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as the ultimate violation of the right to life.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
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