Amir Mirzai Hekmati was found guilty of “spreading corruption on earth and waging war against God”, a formulation routinely used against those to be considered enemies of the state and which carries a mandatory death sentence.
Hekmati, who is 28, was “sentenced to death for co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate in terrorism,” a judge ruled, according to The Telegraph.
The details of the case against Mr. Hekmati have been cloaked in secrecy since he was detained in August in Iran, to which his family said he had traveled to visit his grandparents.
Official confirmation that he was even in Iranian custody was not provided until last month.
The White House and the State Department, noting that Iranian prosecutors have a history of coercing confessions, denied that Mr. Hekmati was a spy and called for his immediate release, reports The New York Times.
“If true, we strongly condemn such a verdict and will work with our partners to convey our condemnation to the Iranian government,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
Hekmati, a 28-year-old of Iranian descent born in the state of Arizona, was arrested in December and Iran’s Intelligence Ministry accused him of receiving training at U.S. bases in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are false,” Vietor said. “The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”
Mr. Hekmati, who was born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and spent part of his youth in Flint, Mich., where some members of his family still live, has not been allowed to communicate with relatives or legal counsel either in Iran or the United States.
He is part of a population of an estimated one million Iranian-Americans who have extensive family ties in Iran.
Hekmati’s parents issued a statement, signed by his mother, Behnaz Hekmati, denying their son was a spy and asking for mercy for him, Reuters informs.
They said the former U.S. military translator was visiting relatives in Iran for the first time when he was arrested.
“My husband Ali and I are shocked and terrified by the news that our son, Amir, has been sentenced to death,” it said.
“Amir did not engage in any acts of spying, or ‘fighting against God,’ as the convicting Judge has claimed in his sentence. Amir is not a criminal. His very life is being exploited for political gain.”
Mr. Hekmati’s detention became public last month when Iranian state television broadcast video of him, identifying him as an American-born Iranian-American from Arizona.
In the video, the man identified as Mr. Hekmati said he joined the United States military after graduating from high school in 2001, served in Iraq and received training in languages and espionage.
He said the C.I.A. had sent him to Iran to gain the Iranian authorities’ trust by handing over information, some misleading and some accurate.
If his first mission succeeded, he said he had been told, there would be more. In the televised confession, Mr. Hekmati spoke in fluent English and Persian. He said he was a C.I.A. operative sent to infiltrate the Intelligence Ministry.
Tehran announced on Sunday that it had begun to enrich uranium at a second site, after having threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to shipping, a measure that would severely curtail oil shipments.
The United States strongly condemned the sentence, saying the charges were false. Germany and other European states also criticised the decision.
Iran has executed a number of its nationals on charges of spying for the United States over the past 20 years.