Ex-Marine's family says he wasn't spying in Iran - WNEM TV 5

Ex-Marine's family says he wasn't spying in Iran

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Amir Hekmati Amir Hekmati
Amir Hekmati Amir Hekmati

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - An Iranian court has convicted an American man of working for the CIA and sentenced him to death, state radio reported Monday, in a case adding to the accelerating tension between the United States and Iran.

Iran charges that as a former U.S. Marine, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission. The radio report did not say when the verdict was issued. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.

>> READ: US denies charges against Flint grad held in Iran

The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from Flint Central High School. His family is of Iranian origin.

His father, a professor of microbiology at Mott Community College in Flint, has said his son is not a CIA spy and was visiting his grandmothers in Iran when he was arrested.

Behnaz Hekmati, mother of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, said in an email to the media that she and her husband Ali are "shocked and terrified" that their son has been sentenced to death. She said the verdict is "the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair."

In the email, his mother said her son 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."

"A grave error has been committed, and we have authorized our legal representatives to make direct contact with the Iranian authorities to find a solution to this misunderstanding," the family statement said. "We pray that Iran will show compassion and not murder our son, Amir, a natural born American citizen, who was visiting Iran and his relatives for the first time."

His trial took place as the U.S. announced new, tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which Washington believes Tehran is using to develop a possible atomic weapons capability.

Iran, which says it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research, has sharply increased its threats and military posturing against stronger pressures, including the U.S. sanctions targeting Iran's Central Bank in attempts to complicate its ability to sell oil.

The U.S. State Department has demanded Hekmati's release.

The court convicted him of working with a hostile country, belonging to the CIA and trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism, Monday's report said.

In its ruling, a branch of Tehran Revolutionary Court described Hekmati as a mohareb, an Islamic term that means a fighter against God, and a mofsed, or one who spreads corruption on earth. Both terms appear frequently in Iranian court rulings.

In a closed court hearing in late December, the prosecution asked for the death penalty for Hekmati.

The U.S. government has called on Iranian authorities to grant Swiss diplomats access to him in prison. The Swiss government represents U.S. interests in Iran because the two countries don't have diplomatic relations.

Hekmati is a dual U.S.-Iranian national. Iran considers him an Iranian since the country's law does not recognize dual citizenship.

Similar cases against Americans accused of spying have heightened tensions throughout the years-long standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran arrested three Americans in July 2009 along the border with Iraq and accused them of espionage, though the Americans said they were just hiking in the scenic and relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq.

One of them was released after a year in prison, and the other two were freed in September in deals involving bail payments that were brokered by the Gulf sultanate of Oman, which has good relations with Iran and the U.S.

On Dec. 18, Iran's state TV broadcast video of Hekmati delivering a purported confession.

In a statement released the same day, Iran's Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati at Bagram Air Field in neighboring Afghanistan. Bagram is the main base for American and other international forces outside Kabul, the Afghan capital.

It is not clear exactly when he was arrested. Iranian news reports have said he was detained in late August or early September.

Hekmati's father, Ali, said in a December interview with The Associated Press, that his son was a former Arabic translator in the U.S. Marines who entered Iran about four months earlier to visit his grandmothers.

At the time, he was working in Qatar as a contractor for a company "that served the Marines," his father said, without providing more specific details.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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