Akbari, a former deputy defense minister in Iran, was sentenced to death after Tehran accused him of spying for Britain, according to Mizan, the news agency of Iran’s judiciary, which gave no details Wednesday on when the sentence was handed down or when it would be carried out. The agency also did not say when Akbari was arrested, though his wife told the BBC’s Persian service that he was detained more than three years ago.
Mizan’s article described Akbari as “one of the most important agents of Britain’s spy service” and said an appeal against his execution had been rejected after he was found guilty of “corruption on earth” and “extensive actions against the country’s internal and foreign security.”
Akbari was accused of passing important information to “the enemy’s spy services,” Mizan said, referring to Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, MI6.
On Thursday, the Iranian news agency IRNA broadcast Akbari’s alleged confession. But Akbari said in a recording made in prison and obtained by BBC Persian that he was forced to make the confession under threat of death. He also said he was subjected to more than 3,500 hours of interrogation, during which his “will was broken” and he was “driven to the point of insanity” by torture and psychedelic drugs.
He said in the recording that Iranian authorities had “no proof for any of the claims it is making” and simply wanted to “take revenge” against Britain.
Akbari’s wife told BBC Persian on Wednesday that he had been taken to solitary confinement and that relatives had been told any visit to Akbari would be his last. She added that the family had previously decided against publicizing news of his detention in hopes of reaching a resolution, but that Iranian media outlets had then published the news of his conviction and death sentence.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, controls the judiciary and has the final say on all political and religious matters in the country. He wields the power to pardon prisoners and commute sentences.
According to the Associated Press, Akbari served as deputy defense minister under President Mohammad Khatami — a pro-reform cleric who came to power in 1997 — until 2001. He also played a role in the cease-fire that ended a bloody eight-year war with Iraq in 1988, the AP said. He lived in Britain for over 10 years, the Guardian reported.
Iran has come under renewed pressure over its death penalty since hanging at least four men arrested in the anti-government protests that followed the September death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s “morality police.” The 22-year-old had been detained for allegedly wearing a head covering improperly.
More than 500 protesters have been killed in the unrest, according to the Human Rights Activists News Agency, while others have received death sentences.
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Dual nationals have been targeted by Iranian authorities in recent years, and many Western countries have warned against travel to Iran for this reason.
Dissidents based abroad also face threats. Jamshid Sharmahd, a California resident in his 60s, was allegedly kidnapped during a flight layover in Dubai in August 2020 and taken to Iran, where he was accused of leading a “terrorist” group — a charge he denies.
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According to his daughter, he also faces charges of “corruption on earth.” His eighth and final court appearance had been scheduled for Jan. 10, but Sharmahd’s daughter said it had already happened behind closed doors. The court-appointed lawyer, she said, told the family that a death sentence would be carried out within 10 days.
She previously said that her father had lost 40 pounds and most of his teeth while in custody.
Sharmahd’s ordeal shares some parallels with the case of Ruhollah Zam, a prominent exiled journalist living in France who was arrested and extradited to Iran after being lured to Iraq in 2019. He, like Akbari, was convicted of “corruption on earth.” He was executed in December 2020.
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