Iran executes British-Iranian accused of espionage

  • Alireza Akbari was a former Iranian deputy defense minister
  • He was arrested in 2019 and charged with spying for Britain
  • British Sunak calls it ‘a callous and cowardly act’
  • Britain had said Iran should not carry out the sentence

DUBAI/LONDON, Jan. 14 (Reuters) – Iran has executed a British-Iranian national who was once deputy defense minister, the judiciary said, despite calls from London and Washington for his release after he was sentenced to death on charges of espionage for Britain.

Britain, which had declared the case against Alireza Akbari politically motivated, condemned the execution, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling it “a callous and cowardly act by a barbaric regime”.

Akbari, 61, was arrested in 2019.

The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency reported on the execution without saying when it had taken place. Late Friday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had said that Iran should not carry out the sentence.

The execution appears to have put more strain on Iran’s long-strained ties with the West, which have deteriorated further since talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal and when Tehran unleashed a deadly crackdown on protesters last year.

In an audio recording purportedly from Akbari and broadcast by BBC Persian on Wednesday, he said he had confessed to crimes he had not committed after extensive torture.

“Alireza Akbari, who was sentenced to death on charges of corruption on earth and extensive actions against the internal and external security of the country by espionage for British intelligence…was executed,” Mizan said.

The Mizan report accused Akbari of receiving payments of 1,805,000 euros, 265,000 pounds and $50,000 for espionage.

Sunak said on Twitter that he was “appalled by the execution”, and said Tehran had “no respect for the human rights of their own people”. Slim said in a statement that it “would not go unchallenged”, later announcing that Britain had imposed sanctions on Iran’s attorney general.

British statements on the matter do not address the Iranian accusation that Akbari was spying for Britain.

Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the British ambassador on Saturday over what it called “London’s interference in Iran’s national security sphere,” state news agency IRNA reported.

Iran’s state media, which has portrayed Akbari as a super-spy, aired a video on Thursday which they say revealed he played a role in the 2020 assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was killed in an attack outside Tehran, which authorities blamed the time on Israel.

In the video, Akbari did not confess to being involved in the murder, but said that a British agent asked for information about Fakhrizadeh.

Iran’s state media often broadcast alleged confessions of suspects in politically charged cases.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the state media’s video and audio, or where and when they were recorded.

Akbari was a close ally of Ali Shamkhani, now the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who served as defense minister from 1997 to 2005, when Akbari was his deputy as part of the government of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

He fought during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s as a member of the Revolutionary Guards.

It is a rare instance of the Islamic Republic executing a serving or former senior official. One of the last times was in 1984, when Iranian naval commander Bahram Afzali was executed after being accused of spying for the Soviet Union.


French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires over the execution.

He was “warned that Iran’s repeated violations of international law cannot go unanswered, especially with regard to the treatment of foreigners it arbitrarily detains,” according to a statement from the State Department.

Iran’s ties to the West are also strained by its support for Russia in Ukraine, where Western states say Iranian drones were used during the invasion.

Britain, which has a long history of fraught ties with Iran, and other Western states have strongly criticized Tehran’s crackdown on anti-government protests sparked by the death in custody of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in September.

Iran has issued dozens of death sentences as part of the crackdown, executing at least four people.


In the audio recording broadcast by BBC Persian, Akbari said he made false confessions as a result of torture.

“Using over 3,500 hours of torture, psychedelic drugs, and physiological and psychological coercions, they took away my will. They drove me to the brink of insanity… and forced me to make false confessions with force of arms and death threats.” he said.

Amnesty International said the execution was further evidence of the authorities’ “abhorrent attack on the right to life”.

Akbari’s case “is particularly horrifying given the abuses he has been subjected to while in prison, including torture and other ill-treatment by forcibly administering chemicals and being held in long-term solitary confinement,” it said in a statement. Tweet.

Iranian authorities have not responded to allegations that Akbari has been tortured.

A report by Iran’s state television – details that Reuters could not independently verify – said he was arrested in 2008 on espionage charges before he was released on bail and left Iran.

It said that in 2009 he went to Austria under the pretext of medical treatment, then to Spain and finally to England.

In an interview with BBC Persian broadcast on Friday, Mehdi, Akbari’s brother, said he had returned to Iran in 2019 at Shamkhani’s invitation.

Reporting by the Dubai newsroom, Michael Holden in London and Tassilo Hummel in Paris; Written by Tom Perry; Edited by William Mallard and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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