Alleged CIA spy seeks retrial after Iranian court slashes his sentence

Amir Mirzaei HekmatiBy IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
A United States citizen held in Iran since 2011 on spy charges has appealed for a retrial after an Iranian court quashed his earlier death sentence for espionage. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former Marine born in the US state of Arizona, was arrested in August of 2011 in Iran and charged with carrying out a covert mission for the Central Intelligence Agency. In December of 2011, Hekmati appeared on Iranian state television and acknowledged that he was an operative of the CIA. He said in an interview that he had been trained “in languages and espionage” while in the US Army and that, in 2009, after nearly a decade of intelligence training, he was recruited by the CIA and specifically prepared to carry out what intelligence operatives sometimes refer to as a ‘dangling operation’ in Iran. The aim of the mission, said Hekmati, was to travel to Tehran, contact Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and National Security, and pose as a genuine American defector wishing to supply the Iranians with inside information about American intelligence. His immediate task was to gain the trust of Iranian authorities by giving them some correct information in order to set the stage for a longer campaign of disinformation aimed at undermining a host of Iranian intelligence operations. In 2012, Hekmati was sentenced to death for spying. Members of his family, however, who live in Michigan, have continuously denied that he is an intelligence operative and maintain that he traveled to Iran to visit his grandparents. Their denials have been echoed by the government in Washington, which has denied employing Hekmati in any intelligence capacity. In March of 2012, the Supreme Court of Iran quashed Hekmati’s death sentence and ordered a retrial, calling his previous prosecution “incomplete”. At the retrial, Iran’s Revolutionary Court overturned Hekmati’s initial espionage conviction, charging him instead with “collaborating with a hostile government”. His original sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison. But Hekmati’s lawyer, Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei, told journalists on Sunday that his client would appeal even that sentence, thus seeking an immediate release from prison. The appeal is likely to take place in the context of a steadily improving climate in relations between Washington and Tehran, following the election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran in 2013. Last November, the administration of US President Barack Obama formally requested the release of three Americans held in Iran, including Hekmati, saying that such a move would help further-improve the bilateral relations between the US and the Islamic Republic. On Monday, US Representative Dan Kildee (MI-D), whose Congressional constituency includes Hekmati’s family, said the former US Marine was being “held on unjust charges” and that it was “long past time for Iran to free him”.

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