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.
-- 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