Former Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Ali Reza Akbari (1997-2005) has been hanged after being found guilty of spying for the British government, it was reported in Tehran Saturday by the Mizan news service, although the exact moment of the execution was not revealed.
Alireza Akbari, who was sentenced to death on charges of corruption on earth and extensive action against the country’s internal and external security through espionage for the British government's intelligence service ... was executed,” Mizan said.
Akbari, arrested in 2019, was said to have received € 1,805,000, £ 265,000, and US$ 50,000 for spying.
This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak posted on Twitter. Sunak also said he was “appalled” by the news concerning the man who held double nationality. Akbari’s trial was not open to the public.
This barbaric act deserves condemnation in the strongest possible terms. This will not stand unchallenged, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also wrote on social media.
“The charges against Ali Reza Akbari and his sentencing to execution were politically motivated. His execution would be unconscionable,” US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said Friday before confirmation of the execution.
“We are greatly disturbed by the reports that Mr. Akbari was drugged, tortured while in custody, interrogated for thousands of hours, and forced to make false confessions,” he also pointed out after an audio message from Akbari in this regard had been broadcast by BBC Persia on Wednesday. With more than 3,500 hours of torture, psychedelic drugs, and physiological and psychological pressure methods, they took away my will. They drove me to the brink of madness ... and forced me to make false confessions by force of arms and death threats, Akbari reportedly said.
Iranian state media said Akbari had also played a role in the 2020 assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, killed in a 2020 attack outside Tehran which authorities blamed at the time on Israel. In a video released by Iranian authorities, Akbari did not confess to participating in the assassination but said a British agent had asked for information about Fakhrizadeh.
Diplomatic ties between London and Tehran ties have deteriorated as the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to be reinstated. The British Conservative Government has also been critical of the violent crackdown on protesters who took to the streets after the death of a young Iranian-Kurdish woman in September while under arrest for not wearing her face cover in accordance with religious law.
Iran's judiciary also sentenced a Belgian aid worker to 40 years in prison plus 74 lashes for espionage and smuggling. According to Iran's Tasnim News Agency, Olivier Vandercasteele, 41, was found guilty of spying activities, collusion with the United States, currency smuggling, and money laundering [plus] collaboration with hostile governments.
According to Vandercasteele's sister Nathalie citing a conversation with Belgium's Ambassador to Tehran who had visited Olivier at the penitentiary, the aid worker was in bad shape, has lost at least 25 kilos” and is suffering hearing problems.
Vandecasteele's case has been linked to that of Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi, who was accused of masterminding a plot to bomb a gathering of an opposition group of Iranian exiles in Paris in 2018. Assadi has been sentenced to 20 years in jail by a Belgian court in February 2021.
Months later, when Vandecasteele returned to Iran where he had spent years as an aid worker for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and other organizations, he was arrested. The Belgian parliament then drafted a treaty that would allow a prisoner swap but Belgium's opposition argued that such an agreement was tailor-made for Assadi's release, which resulted in the treaty being suspended. One week later, Vandecasteele was sentenced to 28 years imprisonment. At a second court session this week, another 12 years were added, along with the whipping. Vandecasteele now has 20 days to appeal.
Meanwhile, in Belgium, the Constitutional Court will make its final decision on the legality of the suspension of the extradition treaty in March.
Earlier this week, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the streak of executions in Iran was nothing but state-sanctioned killings to instill fear in the population.
The militarization of criminal proceedings to punish people for exercising their fundamental rights - such as participating in or organizing demonstrations - amounts to state-sanctioned killings, Türk said in a statement in which he added that those executions violated international human rights law.
Iran hanged two men last Saturday (Jan. 7) for allegedly killing a member of the security forces during nationwide protests and many others have been sentenced to death. Another inmate was hanged on Monday for his involvement in the protests. Majidreza Rahnavard, 23, was convicted in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad for killing two members of the security forces and wounding four people, according to the official version. Human rights groups argue that it was a show trial and that the defendant had been forced to confess under duress. He was hanged in public and not inside a prison, Mizan noted.
The European Union (EU) also summoned Iran's ambassador Hossein Dehghani following last weekend's executions. EU External Action Service Secretary General Stefano Sannino asked the Iranian diplomat to immediately put an end to the handing down of death sentences against demonstrators and to cancel without delay all the executions already scheduled. Since protests began last September following the death of young Mahsa Amini while in custody for violating the Islamic dress code, Iran has already handed down 16 death sentences and carried out five executions, while heavy police repression has left over 500 dead and nearly 20,000 people arrested.
Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani was among those who could have been sentenced to death. His case gained worldwide notoriety during the Qatar 2022 World Cup. In the end, he was spared from the gallows but was sentenced to 26 years in prison for defending women's rights. The 26-year-old Azadani was convicted for the Nov. 16 riots in which three law enforcement officers were killed during an incident in Isfahan province. He was charged with committing crimes against public order, gathering and conspiring to violate the country's security, in addition to committing moharebe (a crime against God).
The international football players' union (FIFPRO), called for the immediate elimination of his punishment, as did various human rights organizations. FIFPRO is shocked and disgusted by reports that professional footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani faces execution in Iran after campaigning for women's rights and basic freedoms in his country. We stand in solidarity with Amir and call for the immediate removal of his punishment, the union said in a statement.
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