Last updated: 5 March, 2012

Iran court overturns US ex-Marine death term

Iran’s Supreme Court has overturned a death sentence for spying handed down to former US Marine Amir Mirzai Hekmati, Iranian media reported on Monday, quoting a top judiciary official.

“The sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court … The case has been sent back” to the court for retrial, prosecutor general Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei told a press conference, ISNA news agency reported without elaborating.

Another news agency, Fars, similarly reported Mohseni Ejei’s comments but it too gave no further details.

Hekmati, an ex-Marine born in the United States to an Iranian immigrant family, was sentenced to death on January 9 by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Hekmati, who also holds Iranian nationality, was “sentenced to death for cooperating with a hostile nation, membership of the CIA and trying to implicate Iran in terrorism,” according to Iranian media.

The 28-year-old Hekmati was shown on Iranian state television in December saying in Farsi and English that he was an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency sent to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence ministry.

Iranian officials said his cover was blown by agents for Iran who spotted him at the US-run Bagram military air base in neighbouring Afghanistan.

But his family in the United States told US media he had travelled to Iran to visit his grandmothers and was not a spy.

The New York Times had reported in February that his mother, Benhaz Hekmati, travelled alone to Tehran in late January and was able to visit her son in prison for an hour on three different occasions before returning to the United States.

Hekmati was tried as an Iranian citizen because Iran does not recognise dual nationality.

In his sole trial hearing on December 27, prosecutors relied on Hekmati’s “confession” to say he tried to penetrate the intelligence ministry by posing as a disaffected former US soldier with classified information to give.

The United States has called for the release of Hekmati, with US officials saying the allegation he was sent by the CIA to infiltrate the Iranian intelligence ministry was false.

The US State Department said Iran has not permitted diplomats from the Swiss embassy in Tehran — which handles US interests in the absence of US-Iran ties — to see Hekmati.

Iran has detained and released a number of Americans after imprisoning and convicting them of spying, although there was no precedent for a death sentence being carried out since the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the pro-Western shah.

Three other Americans, who were held in Iran on spying charges after hiking in 2009 along the unmarked Iran-Iraq border, were eventually released — one in 2010 and the other two in September 2011, despite being sentenced to eight years in prison.