Iran executes an Iranian-British man accused of espionage

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has accused Iran of a “cowardly act” after the Islamic Republic executed an Iranian-British national convicted of espionage.

Iranian state media said the Islamic regime hanged Alireza Akbari, who had held various senior positions in Iran’s security and military institutions, after he was accused of spying for British intelligence agency MI6.

Sunak said in a post on Twitter that he was “appalled” by the execution. “This was a callous and cowardly act carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of its own people,” he said. “My thoughts are with Alireza’s friends and family.”

The execution threatens to heighten tensions between Britain and Iran, with ties already strained as Iranian officials have accused Western powers of fomenting months of anti-republic protests.

Western officials have widely condemned Tehran’s crackdown on protests that erupted in September, as well as the regime’s decision to sell armed drones to Moscow, which Russia has used in its war against Ukraine.

Dozens of European nationals – mostly French and German – have been arrested in Iran, according to Western diplomats, some of whom were detained after protests erupted. This is believed to be the highest number of westerners ever arrested in the Islamic Republic.

British, German and French ambassadors were regularly summoned to the Iranian foreign ministry for alleged interference by their countries in the internal affairs of the republic.

The protests erupted after Mahsa Amini died in Iran’s morality police custody after the 22-year-old was accused of not wearing her mandatory hijab properly. The protests were one of the longest and largest outbreaks of civil unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

More than 300 protesters, including 44 children, lost their lives, according to Amnesty International. Four protesters have also been executed since December.

Akbari, 61, was arrested in 2019 after returning to Tehran from London, where he has relatives. His detention was not announced by the Iranian or British governments, nor by his family until recently. The UK said it had regularly raised Akbari’s case, most recently on January 11.

Tasnim News Agency, a state news outlet, said Akbari had conspired with British spies and received cash and other benefits from MI6, including a British passport, 1.8 million euros, 265,000 pounds and $50,000.

According to the indictment released by Tasnim, Akbari “acted against national security” and “spied for Britain” over a long period of time. It has been alleged that he held “extensive meetings” with MI6 agents in various countries, all of which caused “major disturbances to the general order of the country”.

Akbari has held several senior positions in the Iranian government and was deputy defense minister from 1997 to 2002, when Ali Shamkhani was defense minister.

Shamkhani currently holds the regime’s top security post as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

Akbari had allegedly provided British spies with information on 178 officials in Iran, most notably Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear scientist who was assassinated in Iran in 2020. It is widely believed that Israeli agents killed the scientist.

In an audio file released last week by the BBC’s Persian service, allegedly speaking of Akbari, the dual citizen claimed he made a false confession after being tortured, held in solitary confinement and interrogated for up to 4,000 hours.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Twitter: “This barbaric act deserves the strongest condemnation. This will not go unchallenged. My thoughts are with Alireza Akbari’s family.” Iran executes an Iranian-British man accused of espionage

Adam Bradshaw

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