IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

U.K. condemns ‘barbaric’ execution of British Iranian accused of spying in Iran

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it “a callous and cowardly act carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people.”
Get more newsLiveonNBC News Now
/ Source: Reuters

Iran has executed British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari, the judiciary’s Mizan news agency reported on Saturday, after sentencing the former Iranian deputy defense minister to death on charges of spying for Britain.

The U.K., which had declared the case against Alireza Akbari as politically motivated and called for his release, condemned the execution. Akbari, 61, was arrested in 2019.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it “a callous and cowardly act carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people.”

The Mizan news agency reported the execution without saying when it had taken place.

“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,” it said.

British Iranian national Alireza Akbari was executed after being sentenced to death for "corruption on Earth and harming the Iran's internal and external security by passing on intelligence."AFP - Getty Images

The report accused Akbari, arrested in 2019, of receiving $50,000 for spying.  He was a close ally of Ali Shamkhani, now the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who was defense minister from 1997 to 2005, when Akbari was his deputy.

Late on Friday, James Cleverly, Britain's foreign minister, said Iran must not follow through with the sentence — a call echoed by Washington.

The execution looks set to pile more pressure on Iran’s long strained ties with the West which have deteriorated further since talks to revive its 2015 nuclear deal hit deadlock and as Tehran unleashed a deadly crackdown on protesters last year.

In an audio recording purportedly from Akbari and broadcast by BBC Persian on Wednesday, he said he had confessed to crimes he had not committed after extensive torture.

Iranian state media broadcast a video on Thursday that they said showed that Akbari 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 the video, Akbari did not confess to involvement in the assassination but said a British agent had asked for information about Fakhrizadeh.

“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,” he said.

Iran’s state media often airs purported confessions by suspects in politically charged cases.

Reuters could not establish the authenticity of the state media video and audio, or when or where they were recorded.

Ties between London and Tehran have deteriorated in recent months as efforts have stalled to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact, to which Britain is a party.

The U.K. has also been critical of the Islamic Republic’s violent crackdown on anti-government protests, sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian Kurdish woman, in September.

Cleverly said on Thursday that Britain was actively considering proscribing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization but has not reached a final decision.

Iran has issued dozens of death sentences as part of the crackdown on the unrest, executing at least four people.