UK's Sunak: 'Appalled' at 'callous and cowardly' execution

Iran executes former deputy defense minister, a dual UK national, accused of spying

Iran claims, without evidence, that Ali Reza Akbari spied for Britain’s MI6; in assumed coerced confession, Akbari says Britain asked him about nuke scientist said killed by Israel

In this photo released by KhabarOnline News Agency on September 18, 2019, Ali Reza Akbari speaks in an interview. (KhabarOnline News Agency via AP, File)
In this photo released by KhabarOnline News Agency on September 18, 2019, Ali Reza Akbari speaks in an interview. (KhabarOnline News Agency via AP, File)

Iran said Saturday it had executed a dual Iranian-British national who once served as its deputy minister of defense, despite an international outcry over his death sentence and those of others held amid nationwide protests.

Iran’s Mizan news agency, associated with the country’s judiciary, announced Ali Reza Akbari’s hanging.

It did not say when it happened. However, there were rumors he had been executed days ago.

Iran had accused Akbari, without offering evidence, of being a spy for Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency.

It aired a highly edited video of Akbari discussing the allegations resembling others that activists have described as coerced confessions.

In a video published by Iranian media, Akbari is seen apparently talking about his contacts with Britain.

He also said he was questioned by the British about Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, killed in November 2020 in an attack that Tehran blames on Israel.

Military personnel stand near the flag-draped coffin of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a scientist during a funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran, November 30, 2020. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP, File)

For several years, Iran has been locked in a shadow war with the United States and Israel, marked by covert attacks on its nuclear program.

The killing of Fakhrizadeh indicated foreign intelligence services had made major inroads.

Akbari was executed after being sentenced to death for “corruption on earth and harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence,” Mizan reported.

“The actions of the British spy service, in this case, have shown the value of the convict, the importance of his access, and the enemy’s trust in him,” it added.

On Thursday, Iranian state media reported that 61-year-old Akbari had held high positions in the country’s defense establishment.

His posts included “deputy minister of defense for foreign affairs” and a position in the “secretariat of the Supreme National Security Council.”

Akbari had also been an “advisor to the commander of the navy,” as well as “heading a division at the defense ministry’s research center.”

On Friday, State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel criticized Akbari’s pending execution.

“The charges against Ali Reza Akbari and his sentencing to execution were politically motivated. His execution would be unconscionable,” he said. “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 added: “More broadly, Iran’s practices of arbitrary and unjust detentions, forced confessions, and politically motivated executions are completely unacceptable and must end.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “appalled” by the execution.

“This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people,” Sunak said in a statement.

Britain’s newly appointed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech outside 10 Downing Street in central London, on October 25, 2022. (Daniel Leal/AFP)

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had earlier called on Iran to stop the execution.

“The Iranian regime should be in no doubt,” he wrote Friday online. “We are watching the case of Ali Reza Akbari closely.”

Iran’s government for months has been trying to allege — without offering evidence — that foreign countries have fomented the unrest gripping the Islamic Republic since the death of Mahsa Amini in September after she was detained by the morality police. Protesters say they are angry over the collapse of the economy, heavy-handed policing and the entrenched power of the country’s Islamic clergy.

Iran is one of the world’s top executioners.

Akbari, who ran a private think tank, has not been seen in public since 2019, when he was apparently arrested.

He also was close to Ali Shamkhani, a top security official in Iran, leading analysts to suggest his death sentence was tied to a possible power struggle within the country’s security apparatus amid the protests.

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani sits in a meeting in Tehran, Iran, on June 12, 2021. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

Akbari had previously led the implementation of a 1988 cease-fire between Iran and Iraq following their devastating eight-year war, working closely with UN observers.

Authorities have not released any details about his trial. Those accused of espionage and other crimes related to national security are usually tried behind closed doors, where rights groups say they do not choose their own lawyers and are not allowed to see evidence against them.

The anti-government protests, which have continued for nearly four months with no sign of ending, are one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution that brought it to power.

At least 520 protesters have been killed and more than 19,300 people have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the unrest. Iranian authorities have not provided official figures on deaths or arrests.

Iran has executed four people after convicting them of charges linked to the protests in similarly criticized trials, including attacks on security forces.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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