Iran executed a former deputy Iranian defense minister, who was a British-Iranian, on allegations of spying for British intelligence, marking the first execution of a prominent official in over a decade in a clear sign of deteriorating relations with the West.
Alireza Akbari, a 61-year-old British-Iranian dual national, was executed for spying on behalf of the U.K., an accusation he had always denied since he was arrested in Iran in 2019.
Akbari was accused of “harming the country’s internal and external security by passing on intelligence,” an activity he carried out between 2004 and 2009 and for which he would have received a payment of over €2 million, the judiciary’s official news outlet Mizan said.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called the execution a “callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime.”
Akbari’s death would “not stand unchallenged,” said U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in a statement that prompted Persian authorities to summon the British ambassador in Teheran.
BBC Persian aired an audio message from Akbari earlier this week in which the inmate said he had been tortured and forced to confess crimes on camera he hadn’t committed — something that human rights NGO Amnesty International is now urging London to investigate.
Maryam Samadi, Akbari’s wife, said she was “just shocked,” in a phone interview with the New York Times on Friday. “We saw no reason or indication for the charges,” she said. “We could have never imagined this, and I don’t understand the politics behind it.”
The U.K. Foreign Office is now seeking the possibility of giving asylum to Akbari’s family, considered at risk, but that’s proving difficult, as the country does not recognize dual nationality for its citizens.