Iran court sentences American to death on spy charges

A court in Iran has sentenced to death Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an Iranian American who was convicted of spying for the CIA, Iranian media reported
REPORTING FROM BEIRUT AND TEHRAN -- A court in Tehran has sentenced to death an Iranian American who was convicted of spying for the Central Intelligence Agency, Iranian media reported on Monday.

The sentencing of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, is likely to add to the tension between the United States and Iran, which has been escalating over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program.

Prosecutors accused Hekmati of "cooperation with an enemy government, membership in the CIA and attempts to accuse Iran of supporting terrorism," the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

A branch of Iran's Revolutionary Court found him to be a "corrupter on Earth" and "waging war on God," the news service reports said, expressions that routinely appear in Iranian court cases.

Last month, Iranian state television broadcast video of a purported confession by Hekmati in which he said he had been sent by the CIA to infiltrate Iranian intelligence services.

Iran alleges that Hekmati served at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and received specialized training. The Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati at Bagram air base in neighboring Afghanistan and tracked him as he infiltrated Iran.

Fars reported that Hekmati repeated the alleged confession at a closed-door trial last month, telling the court that he was “fooled” by the CIA and did not want to "strike a blow" at Iran.

Hekmati's family said any confessions would have been made under duress. His father, Ali Hekmati, a community college professor in Flint, Mich., told the Associated Press that his son was a former U.S. military translator who was in Iran to visit his two grandmothers.

The younger Hekmati was born in Flagstaff, Ariz., and graduated from high school in Flint, according to the AP report. It is not clear when exactly he was arrested. His father told the news service it was about three weeks after he arrived in August.

Hekmati's family said they have struggled to provide him with an attorney in Iran.

"We have sought to hire at least 10 different attorneys to no avail," the family said in a statement this month. They said Hekmati's “only advocate in Iran was a government-appointed lawyer who he met on the first day of his trial."

The U.S. State Department has demanded Hekmati's release, saying he was falsely accused.

The department's deputy spokesman, Mark C. Toner, said last month that Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in Iran, had been denied access to Hekmati.  The U.S. and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980 after Iranian militants took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage.

"We call on the government of Iran to grant the Swiss protecting power immediate access to him and release him without delay," Toner said. "We've seen this story before with the Iranian regime falsely accusing people of being spies and then holding innocent foreigners for political reasons."

In July 2009, Iran arrested three Americans along the border with Iraq and accused them of spying. The three said they were tourists who had been hiking in the scenic and relatively peaceful northern Kurdish region of Iraq. One of them was released after a year in prison; the others were freed in September.

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-- Alexandra Zavis in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: A Dec. 27 photo of a video frame grab image made from the Iranian broadcaster IRIB TV shows Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, accused by Iran of spying for the CIA, in Tehran's revolutionary court. Credit: Associated Press / IRIB

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim acquitted in sodomy trial

A Malaysian court Monday acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges

REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI –- In an unexpected conclusion to a controversial two-year trial, a Malaysian court Monday acquitted opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges, ruling that the DNA evidence submitted by the prosecution was unreliable.

Sodomy, even between consenting adults, is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia although few people are prosecuted. Anwar, who faced up to 20 years in prison for allegedly having sex with a former aide, has repeatedly maintained his innocence, terming the charges politically motivated.

Malaysia's information minister said Monday in a statement that the verdict in the case showed that the Southeast Asian nation's judiciary was free from government interference.

As news of the verdict spread, cheers erupted among Anwar's supporters, opposition politicians and his wife and daughters, many of whom raised their fists in the air.

"Thank God justice has prevailed," Anwar, 64, told journalists outside the courtroom amid heavy security. "To be honest, I am a little surprised."

The allegations against Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, were raised shortly after 2008 elections saw the opposition make sizable gains against the ruling United Malays National Organization party, in power for the last 50 years. This was the second sodomy trial against Anwar, who was beaten and jailed for six years in another case widely seen as politically motivated.

National elections are due by 2013, although analysts expect they'll be called later this year.

Minutes after the verdict, a message from Anwar's Twitter account read: "In the coming election, voice of the people will be heard and this corrupt government will be toppled from its pedestals of power." 

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-- Mark Magnier

Photo: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim at his residence after he was acquitted in a surprise end to a politically charged sodomy trial. Credit: Kamarul Akhir / AFP/Getty Images


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