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Ali Reza Akbari: Iran executes former senior defense official over British spy claims

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Iranian-British national Ali Reza Akbari has been executed by hanging in Iran, according to reports from Iranian news outlet Mizan on Saturday. The exact time of Akbari’s execution is unknown, but rumors suggest it happened days ago.

Iran accused Akbari, the country’s former defense ministry official, of being a spy for Britain’s MI-6 intelligence agency without evidence, according to the Associated Press.

One of the top executioners in the world, Iran, reportedly aired a highly edited video of Akbari discussing the allegations against him. Activists compared it to similar “confession videos” and described it as coerced.

Akbari’s death sentence, announced Wednesday, sparked an international outcry and contributed to ongoing protests held nationwide.

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United Kingdom Prime Minister Rishi Sunak condemned Akbari’s execution in the following tweet Saturday morning:

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“I am appalled by the execution of British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari in Iran. 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.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who had previously spoken out against the execution, shared similar sentiments in a statement Saturday morning.

“The execution of British-Iranian Alireza Akbari is a barbaric act that deserves condemnation in the strongest possible terms. Through this politically motivated act, the Iranian regime has once again shown its callous disregard for human life,” Cleverly said. “This will not stand unchallenged, and we will be summoning the Iranian Charge d’Affaires to make clear our disgust at Iran’s actions. Our thoughts are with Mr. Akbari’s family.”

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On Friday, U.S. Department of State Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel criticized the pending execution, calling it “unconscionable” and “politically motivated” from the start.

“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,” Patel said, according to the AP. “More broadly, Iran’s practices of arbitrary and unjust detentions forced confessions, and politically motivated executions are completely unacceptable and must end.”

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Akbari had not been seen in public since his reported arrest in 2019 and was running a private think tank at the time. Details surrounding his trial have not been released.

The AP reported 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 lawyers and are not allowed to see the evidence against them.

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, according to the AP.

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Akbari worked closely with U.N. observers when he led the implementation of a 1988 cease-fire between Iran and Iraq following their devastating eight-year war.

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For months, Iran’s government has been trying to blame foreign countries for the nationwide unrest stemming from the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by morality police after allegedly violating strict rules related to wearing a hijab.

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

Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group monitoring the unrest, said at least 520 protestors had been killed, and more than 19,300 people have been arrested. Iranian authorities have not provided official numbers on deaths or arrests.

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

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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