Rishi Sunak has condemned the “callous and cowardly” execution of a British-Iranian dual national in Iran.
Alireza Akbari, who once served in Iran’s defence ministry, had been accused of spying, an allegation he denied. Iran’s Mizan news agency, associated with the country’s judiciary, said he had been hanged.
Mr Sunak, writing on Twitter on Saturday morning said: “I am appalled by the execution of British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari in Iran.
“This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people,” the Prime Minister continued. “My thoughts are with Alireza’s friends and family.”
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns further described Iran as a “terrorist state” whose actions were “heinous”.
Mr Akbari was arrested in 2019 and accused of espionage for MI6, related to past nuclear talks between Iran and western nations.
His execution went ahead despite a plea from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly not to proceed.
“Iran must halt the execution of British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari and immediately release him,” Mr Cleverly tweeted earlier this week. “This is a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life.”
On Saturday morning, following the announcement of the execution, the Minister said the killing would not go “unchallenged”.
“Iran has executed a British national,” he tweeted. “This barbaric act deserves condemnation in the strongest possible terms. This will not stand unchallenged. My thoughts are with Alireza Akbari’s family.”
Ms Kearns previously accused the Iranians of seeking to “weaponise” dual nationals as anti-government protests convulse the country. She said Mr Akbari may have been singled out by the regime because of his closeness to a leading Iranian moderate who has led calls for dialogue and discussion.
On Saturday morning she condemned the execution and that the West’s tone towards Iran needed to change.
“Our hearts go out to all those who know and love Alireza Akbari, but ultimately, this is the continuation of the activities of a terrorist state.
“We have seen over the last few years the industrialisation of hostage taking by Iran. We have seen they are responsible for the most attempted murders in the UK and the most successful number of assissinations across western Europe.
“Their activites are heinous and it’s time, unfortunately, for us to change our posture towards them.
“After every state murder, we must stand by the protestors in Iran who are just calling for an end to state repression and put in place sanctions against those responsible and supportive of those state murders.
"We cannot allow Iran to set the narrative and us to respond to it. What we're seeing now is a country, a regime, that is cornered. We need to take action and stop them setting the agenda."
Asked if the West has been "too soft" on Iran’s regime, she replied: "If you don't have hope, if you don't act with the best possible outcomes in mind, you won’t achieve anything.
"But you do need to plan for fail. There is now time for reflection and a posture change."
David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said Iran must be “held accountable” for breaching international law following the execution.
“Labour condemns the atrocious, cowardly and authoritarian execution of Alireza Akbari by the Iranian regime in the strongest possible terms,” he said.
“The Iranian regime must be held accountable for its flagrant breaches of human rights and international law. All state-sanctioned death sentences must be immediately quashed.”
A statement from the Iranian Students’ News Agency announced Mr Akbar’s death.
“The sentence of Alireza Akbari, the son of Ali with dual Iranian-British citizenship, who was sentenced to death on charges of corruption in the land and widespread action against the country’s internal and external security through espionage for the intelligence apparatus of the British government, was executed,” it said.
Earlier this week, Mr Akbari’s wife Maryam told BBC Persian she was invited to a “final meeting” at the prison where he was put in solitary confinement.
Tehran has detained a number of dual and foreign nationals in recent years, including British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was held in 2016 until her release last year.
Amnesty International said the execution of Mr Akbari showed “how pitifully little respect” Iran has for human life and called on the UK to investigate claims the prisoner was tortured before his death.
Freshta Sharif, Amnesty International UK’s individuals at risk campaign manager, said: “This is absolutely terrible news and once again shows how pitifully little respect the Iranian authorities have for the right to life.
“Alireza Akbari’s fate is particularly horrific given the human rights abuse he reportedly suffered in detention, including torture, being held in prolonged solitary confinement and being forced to repeatedly make false confessions.
“Alireza was convicted of the supposed crime of ‘spreading corruption on Earth’, which we’ve repeatedly condemned for falling far short of international legal standards.
“We need to see UK officials doing their utmost to investigate allegations that Alireza was tortured and pursuing all avenues to hold those responsible in Iran to account.
“The application of universal jurisdiction should remain an option, with the possibility of a criminal trial being held in the UK or elsewhere outside of Iran if there is sufficient evidence available.”
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been contacted for comment.
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