Iran sentences ‘CIA spy’ to death

A court in Iran has sentenced Amir Mirzai Hekmati to death “for co-operating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism”, according to Iran’s ‘semi-official’ Fars News Agency.

Hekmati, who was born in Arizona and holds both US and Iranian citizenship, gave a statement on Iranian state television on 18 December, as is characteristic in high profile judicial cases, supposedly confessing to his involvement in a CIA plot to gather intelligence on Iran’s own intelligence service.

Iran claims that the 28 year old had been spotted at a US run military base in Afghanistan prior to entering the country, and that he had received training in military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, though Washington claims that Mr Hekmati has been “falsely accused”, and have demanded his release.

Amir Hekmati was quoted by Fars News Agency as saying he “was deceived by the CIA” and had “no intention of undermining” Iran, thus meaning he disagrees with the Judge’s verdict that he was trying to “implicate Iran in terrorism”. The Iranian legal system allows 20 days for Mr Hekmati to appeal, which he is expected to do so, although it is doubtful he will be able to overturn the verdict.

This news comes as American-Iranian relations have been at a low point, following recent Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil traffic, a move that would push up oil prices dangerously high for the West, and further cripple the stagnating economies, as a response to Western sanctions.

This is not the first time US citizens have been arrested as spies by Iran. In September 2011, two hikers were released from Iranian prison after being sentenced to eight years imprisonment after crossing over the Iranian border from Iraq in 2009. However, considering the current diplomatic crisis between the two countries, it is unlikely Iran will make similar concessions to Mr Hekmati.

On the same day as Mr Hekmati’s sentencing, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said that any further sanctions imposed by the West “will not have any impact” on Iran. The US had already announced sanctions against Iran’s central bank, and the European Union is likely to authorise an embargo on Iranian oil, as a response to the heightened level of uranium enrichment in Iran’s nuclear program, which the West believes is being pursued in order to obtain nuclear weapons.

2011 had been a particularly turbulent year for Western-Iranian relations. In October, the United States accused Iran of conspiring to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US, Adel Al-Jubeir, and Britain expelled all Iranian diplomats in London after Iranian protestors had stormed the British embassy in Tehran.

Iran has also made its own claims against the West, with accusations of Western sabotage against the Iranian nuclear program. All of this has taken place with a background of increasingly loud calls for military action against Iran coming from more conservative politicians and commentators in the US and Israel.

Military action would most likely involve air-strikes against nuclear infrastructure, though Republican presidential candidates such as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been calling for the all-out regime change envisioned by ne0-cons in the Bush administration.

Although Iran does not recongise dual-citizenship and considers Hekmati as simply an Iranian citizen, the US will view his execution as the murder of an innocent American citizen, which will only cause relations between the two countries to plummet further and escalate the chances of conflict.

The Ayatollah’s claims that sanctions will not affect Iran is mere propaganda. Iran is currently experiencing economic turmoil within its borders, with their currency, the Rial, massively depreciating in value. Thus it seems as if these recent provocations and accusations against the West are a means of distracting the Iranian people from domestic troubles, and targeting anger at the West.

However, as the West has responded with economic sanctions, such a tactic is wildly irresponsible. Such policies are only harming the Iranian people, and it is doubtful how much the heavily state-influenced Iranian media will be able to divert unpopular attention away from the government.

Over the past three years the government has weathered numerous protests against the current regime. Will plunging the country into economic ruin simply provoke a late Arab Spring for Iran? Ultimately, such hostile behaviour is only fuelling the neo-conservative case for Western military action, and at first glance it would seem as if this is exactly what Iran wants.

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