UK sanctions Iran prosecutor general over British-Iranian’s execution on spy charges

Tehran, meanwhile, summons British ambassador hours after former top defense official Alireza Akbari is hanged

Iran's Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri in 2018. (Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Iran's Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri in 2018. (Fars Media Corporation, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Britain will place sanctions on Iran’s prosecutor general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri over the execution Saturday of former top Iranian defense official and dual British national Ali Reza Akbari on spying accusations, the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary said.

“The UK has sanctioned Iran’s Prosecutor General. Sanctioning him today underlines our disgust at [Ali Reza] Akbari’s execution. The Prosecutor General is at the heart of Iran’s use of the death penalty. We’re holding the regime to account for its appalling human rights violations,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a tweet.

Iran meanwhile summoned the British ambassador to Tehran, the Iranian foreign ministry said, hours after Akbari, 61, who once served as its deputy minister of defense, was executed.

Akbari was hanged after being convicted of “corruption on earth and harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence.” Iran judiciary’s Mizan Online website said.

Mizan said Akbari, who had been arrested more than two years ago, had been a spy for Britain’s MI6 secret intelligence agency and had received around $2 million for his services.

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

File: In this picture released on October 14, 2008, by Islamic Republic News Agency, IRNA, Ali Reza Akbari speaks in a meeting to unveil the book ‘National Nuclear Movement’ in Tehran, Iran. (Davoud Hosseini/IRNA via AP)

In a video published by Iranian media, Akbari was 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.

“In response to Britain’s unconventional interventions, including in the national security field of the Islamic Republic of Iran, today, Simon Shercliff, the ambassador of this country in Tehran, was summoned,” the ministry said in a statement.

“In this meeting, our country’s protest against the acts of sabotage and acts against [Iran’s] national security was reflected to the British government,” it added.

The statement stressed “the British government should be held accountable for establishing unconventional communications leading to an attack on [Iran’s] national security.”

“The continuation of such illegal and criminal actions cannot be tolerated in any way; therefore, the British government must accept the consequences of the responsibility of continuing its unorthodox and interventionist approach.”

Earlier, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the execution as “a callous and cowardly act,” saying he was “appalled” by it.

Iran does not recognize dual nationality for its citizens.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak departs 10 Downing Street in London, December 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

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.

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)

On Thursday, Iranian state media reported 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.”

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.

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 is one of the world’s top executioners. It 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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