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Iran executes former defense official for alleged ties to British spies

An undated handout photo shows former Iranian deputy defense minister Alireza Akbari during an interview in Tehran. Akbari was executed on Saturday after being found guilty of spying for Britain. Photo by Khabaronline/EPA-EFE
An undated handout photo shows former Iranian deputy defense minister Alireza Akbari during an interview in Tehran. Akbari was executed on Saturday after being found guilty of spying for Britain. Photo by Khabaronline/EPA-EFE

Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Iran announced Saturday it has executed a British-Iranian citizen accused of spying for British intelligence, drawing heated criticism from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and human rights activists.

Alireza Akbari, a former Iranian deputy defense minister, was executed after being found guilty of espionage, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported.

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Iran's intelligence ministry earlier this week called Akbari "one of the most infiltrating agents of the spying service of the evil U.K. in the country's sensitive and strategic centers," who was arrested after a "long and multi-layered process" involving "counter-intelligence" and "deception operation."

It posted a video of Akbari showing what appeared to be a forced confession, but the BBC later broadcast what it said was an audio message from Akbari in which he claimed to have been tortured and forced to confess on camera to crimes he did not commit.

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The execution brought swift condemnation from British officials, including Sunak.

"I am appalled by the execution of British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari in Iran," he said in a tweet. "This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people. My thoughts are with Alireza's friends and family."

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Foreign Minister James Cleverly announced Britain has sanctioned Iranian Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazer in response to the execution.

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"Sanctioning him today underlines our disgust at Alireza Akbari's execution," he said. "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."

While Montazeri has been prosecutor general, Cleverly said, Iran has also executed four people connected to the ongoing protests over the Sept. 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, while under arrest for violating Iran's dress code for women.

In response what it called the "brutal crackdown" on protesters, Britain has imposed more than 40 new sanctions on Iran, including restrictions placed on six individuals linked to its Revolutionary Courts deemed "responsible for prosecuting protestors with egregious sentences including the death penalty."

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Human rights group Amnesty International said Akbari's execution by Iranian authorities "again displays their abhorrent assault on the right to life. The use of the death penalty is appalling under all circumstances."

In a Twitter thread, the group called his case "particularly horrific given the violations he revealed he was subjected to in prison, including torture & other ill-treatment through being forcibly administered chemical substances & being held in prolonged solitary confinement which caused him great distress, and forced to make recorded 'confessions' repeatedly, w/these recordings later played in court during his trial."

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