Iran sentences ex-US marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati to death

 

An American has been sentenced to death by an Iranian court which convicted him of being a CIA spy, adding to the growing tension between the countries.

Iran claims that as a former US Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati received special training and served at US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission.

The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and went to school in Michigan. His family is of Iranian origin. His father, a professor at a US community college, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

His trial took place as the US announced new, tougher sanctions against Iran over a nuclear program that Washington believes Tehran is using to develop a possible atomic weapons capability.

Iran, which says it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research, has sharply increased its threats and military posturing against stronger pressures, including the US sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank in attempts to complicate its ability to sell oil.

US State Department has demanded Mr Hekmati's release.

The court convicted him of working with a hostile country, belonging to the CIA and trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism.

In its ruling, a branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court described Mr Hekmati as a mohareb, an Islamic term that means a fighter against God, and a mofsed, or one who spreads corruption on earth. Both terms appear frequently in Iranian court rulings.

In a closed court hearing in late December, the prosecution asked for the death sentence.

The US government has called on Iranian authorities to grant Swiss diplomats access to Mr Hekmati in prison. The Swiss represent US interests in Iran because the two countries do not have diplomatic relations.

Mr Hekmati is a dual US-Iranian national. Iran considers him an Iranian since the country's law does not recognise dual citizenship.

Similar cases against Americans accused of spying have heightened tensions throughout years-long stand-off over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran arrested three Americans in July 2009 along the border with Iraq and accused them of espionage, though the Americans said they were just hiking in the scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq. They were eventually released and returned to the United States.

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