Iran put a US citizen of Iranian descent on trial on Tuesday on charges of spying for the CIA, with the prosecutor calling for the “maximum punishment” — presumably the death penalty — if he is convicted, Fars news agency reported.
Confessions extracted from Amir Mirzai Hekmati “have made it clear that the accused cooperated with the Central Intelligence Agency and acted against [Iran’s] national security. Therefore, I ask for maximum punishment,” the prosecutor was quoted as saying.
Hekmati, a 28-year-old former US Marine born in the US to an Iranian immigrant family, was shown on state TV about 10 days ago saying in fluent Farsi and English that he was a CIA operative sent to infiltrate the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.
The US government says Hekmati has been falsely accused and has demanded his immediate release.
“We are aware of press reports that a closed-door trial has begun against Mr Hekmati,” US Department of State deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington.
“We’ve seen this story before, with the Iranian regime falsely accusing people of being spies and then holding innocent foreigners for political reasons,” he said.
He urged Iran to grant the Swiss access to Hekmati and to release him “without delay.”
Hekmati’s trial opened against a backdrop of heightened tensions between arch foes Washington and Tehran.
The US is leading a Western push to ratchet up sanctions on Iran over its controversial nuclear program. Each side has accused the other of conducting clandestine operations.
The US alleged in October that Tehran had a hand in a thwarted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, while Iran this month showed off a CIA drone it said it captured through cyberwarfare.
Fars said Hekmati’s trial started with the prosecutor saying he was charged with cooperating “with the hostile US government and the US espionage services of the CIA.”
It said Hekmati had admitted to trying to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence services for the CIA and quoted what it said was a confession.
Hekmati allegedly admitted to having a first interview with the CIA in 2009 and being trained for five months, before being sent to Iraq, where he said he spent nine months.
After Iraq, the CIA hired him — on a promised payment of US$500,000 — to infiltrate Iran, according to the presented confession.
“I was fooled by the US intelligence services. Even though I entered Iran with the mission of infiltrating the Iranian intelligence services to become a source of information for the CIA, I did not want to personally hurt Iran,” Hekmati was quoted as saying, according to Fars. “I had the intention of living in Iran and of not returning to the United States.”
US media quoted Hekmati’s family as saying he had worked as an Arabic translator for the US Marines and that he had gone to Iran months ago to visit his Iranian grandmothers.
“My son is no spy,” Hekmati’s father, Ali Hekmati, who works as a teacher in the US state of Michigan, told US television network ABC last week.