Mizan News, an agency affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, reported that a former defence minister named Ali Reza Akbari has been executed.
Despite international pressure not to carry out the death sentence, Iran claimed on Saturday that it had executed a former senior officer in the defence ministry who was also a dual citizen of Iran and the United Kingdom.
As the Islamic Republic was being rocked by widespread anti-government rallies, the execution heightened tensions with the West.
The execution of Ali Reza Akbari, a close associate of senior security official Ali Shamkhani, raises the possibility of an ongoing power struggle within the Iranian theocracy as it attempts to control protests following the killing of Mahsa Amini in September. It also reminded them of the widespread military purges that took place right after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.
London, which, along with the US and other countries, has sanctioned Iran over the protests and its supplying Russia with the bomb-carrying drones now targeting Ukraine, reacted angrily to Akbari’s execution right away.
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“This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, called the Iranian chargé d’affaires in the UK and privately stated: “This will not remain unchecked.”
After the execution, Iran similarly summoned the British ambassador.
The hanging of Akbari was reported by Iran’s judiciary-affiliated Mizan news agency without a time stamp. There were, however, claims that he had already been put to death.
Without offering any proof, Iran has claimed that Akbari worked as a source for MI6, the colloquial name for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. In a long statement, Iran’s court alleged that in exchange for supplying information to the intelligence service, Akbari had gotten substantial quantities of money, his British passport, and other benefits in London.
However, Iran has traditionally accused those who travel abroad or have contacts to the West of spying, frequently using them as negotiating chips.
Although Akbari, who oversaw a private think tank, is said to have been detained in 2019, information about his case has only recently come to light. Those accused of espionage and other offences involving national security are typically tried in secret, where, according to rights organisations, they are not allowed to pick their own attorneys and cannot view the evidence against them.
Akbari was seen discussing the claims in a heavily manipulated film that was shown on Iranian state television. The video resembled earlier purported confessions that critics have referred to as forced confessions.
On Wednesday, Akbari sent an audio message on the BBC’s Farsi-language channel in which he spoke about being tortured.
“By using physiological and psychological methods, they broke my will, drove me to madness and forced me to do whatever they wanted,” Akbari said in the audio. “By the force of gun and death threats they made me confess to false and corrupt claims.”
Iran has not responded to the allegations of torture. However, Iran has been cautioned by the UN human rights director not to “weaponize” the death penalty in order to quell the demonstrations.
Vedant Patel, the deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, decried Akbari’s impending execution on Friday.
“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.”
Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, denounced the execution on Saturday, calling it a “heinous and barbaric act.” Iran’s charge d’affaires in Paris has been summoned by the French Foreign Ministry.
One of the top executioners in the world is Iran. It was not immediately known, though, when the last execution of a top defence official had taken place. Adm. Baharam Afzali, the head of Iran’s navy, and nine other military personnel were executed in 1984 after being accused of spying for the Soviet Union.
Since the death of 22-year-old Amini in September following her incarceration by the morality police, the Iranian regime has been trying to claim – without providing evidence – that foreign nations have stoked the discontent gripping the Islamic Republic. The collapse of the economy, the militarised police force, and the country’s powerful Islamic clergy, according to protesters, are the causes of their anger.
Iran has been engaged in a covert war with the US and Israel for several years that has been characterised by sneak strikes against Iran’s contentious nuclear programme. Foreign intelligence services had made significant gains, as evidenced by the murder of Iran’s top nuclear scientist in 2020, which Iran claimed Israel was responsible for. Iran brought up that scientist when talking about Akbari’s case, but it’s not apparent if he had any up-to-date knowledge of the individual.
Working closely with UN observers, Akbari had previously oversaw the implementation of the 1988 cease-fire between Iran and Iraq following their destructive eight-year war. He was Shamkhani’s deputy defence minister during the reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s administration, which further raised questions about his qualifications among hard-liners in the Iranian theocracy.
Shamkhani currently serves as secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, the organisation in charge of the nation’s security, under the command of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In an audio message played by BBC Persian, Akbari said that Shamkhani had accused him of stealing top-secret material from him in return for “a bottle of perfume and a shirt.” Shamkhani appears to be still in his position, though.
One of the biggest threats to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution is the anti-government protests that are currently roiling Iran.
Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been following the turmoil, estimates that 520 protestors have died and 19,400 have been detained. Official statistics on arrests or deaths have not been released by Iranian authorities.