Here We Go Again: Iran Condemns Yet Another "Spy"

January 10, 2012

Amir Hekmati iran prisoner
Amir Hekmati

By now I can write the script in my sleep: Foreign citizen (but usually Iranian in origin) picked up and slapped into detention; family told to be quiet about it and things will “go well”; implausible televised confession to acts of espionage or involvement in plot to undermine the Iranian government made by weary-looking defendant is aired on Iranian television; unfair trial in Revolutionary Court; harsh sentence handed down; media fire-storm ensues.

Yes, I have been ticking off each item on my check list again. The only “surprise” in the case of Iranian-American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati is the severity of the sentence.  The death sentence imposed on him is the first time that a U.S. citizen has been condemned to be executed in Iran since the Iranian Revolution took place 33 years ago.

Iran maintains an enormous security apparatus. In order to justify its existence and reinforce its hold on power, the minions in Iran’s security agencies need to constantly ferret out and expose “enemies”— spies, traitors and conspirators who aim to overthrow the Iranian government, or slowly undermine it through a “velvet revolution.” The ongoing tensions with the United States and other western countries over Iran’s nuclear program and other issues provide a never-ending opportunity for Iran’s security machine to trot out its latest trophy.

Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine, was, according to his family, in Iran visiting his elderly grandmother when he was arrested in August. He was shown on Iranian television in December, confessing to be a CIA operative sent to infiltrate Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. The Iranian authorities routinely broadcast orchestrated confessions that are obtained through coercion and sometimes torture. They then use the confessions in legal proceedings in lieu of any real evidence. This was sadly, but predictably, also the case in Mr. Hekmati’s trial.

Amnesty International has consistently criticized the proceedings of Iran’s Revolutionary Courts that miserably fail to adhere to international standards for fair trials. The presiding judge in Revolutionary Court number 15 where Amir Hekmati was tried, Abolghassem Salavati, is notorious for harsh sentences—including several death sentences—handed down to political prisoners and peaceful dissidents.

Mr. Hekmati’s family was not allowed to procure a lawyer of their choice and Mr. Hekmati was only allowed to meet with the court-appointed lawyer for the first time on the very day of his trial. He was also denied access to visits from Swiss officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of diplomatic relations between the countries.

The imposition of this death sentence comes at a time when Iran has been carrying out an alarming number of executions. Iran executed at least 600 people in 2011, most for drug-related offenses. The execution of Zahra Bahrami, a dual Dutch-Iranian national, just about a year ago was both surprising to many and a sobering reminder that the death sentence against Mr. Hekmati cannot be simply dismissed as political brinkmanship.

Mr. Hekmati is not the only person in peril of suffering serious repercussions stemming from charges of being an American spy. Iranian physicist Omid Kokabee, who was doing research at the University of Texas, has been detained in Iran for nearly a year and is currently on trial on charges of espionage.

Sign our online action to stop the executionOr write to Iran’s Supreme Leader urging that the death sentence against Amir Hekmati be set aside:

Ayatollah Sayed ‘Ali Khamenei
The Office of the Supreme Leader
Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Fortunately, the Iranian authorities eventually released most of those Americans and Iranian-Americans—such as Roxana Saberi and the three hikers— accused of spying for the U.S. or plotting to overthrow the government. But this only occurred after an international outcry and months of persistent activism by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. Please send your appeal today.