March 29, 2023

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Briton executed in Iran was ‘lured back’ to Tehran by ‘friend’ to be tortured and hanged

Alireza Akbari was arrested in 2019 by Iranian authorities and convicted of spying for the UK

Alireza Akbari was arrested in 2019 by Iranian authorities and convicted of spying for the UK (Image: AFP/GETTY)

Iran was widely condemned across the world today for hanging ex-deputy Iranian defence minister Alireza Akbari, 61 – despite him denying being an MI6 spy when he returned to the country after a decade living in the UK.

He was arrested in 2019 by Iranian authorities and convicted of spying for the UK. Iran announced he had been hanged on Saturday.

He was tempted back to Tehran by Ali Shamkhani, a senior member of the regime, in what may have been an elaborate trap – with Shamkhani insisting he return as the government needed his security and defence expertise.

Now the regime has been condemned after Akbari was tortured for 3,500-hours according to a smuggled audio file.

His grieving brother Mehdi Akbari said: “The accusations against him are purely based on forced confessions under extreme duress.”

The Iranian Embassy in London

The Iranian Embassy in London (Image: GETTY)

Catherine Perez-Shakdam, an Iran expert at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, said: “It’s completely ludicrous that they claim Akbari was a spy.

“They accuse anyone who is a critic of the regime of spying. Akbari did criticise the regime around 2009, that’s why they accused him of spying. If Akbari was a spy, he would definitely not go back to Iran in 2019.”

Now France has summoned Iran’s top diplomat in Paris, warning that Tehran’s repeated violations of international law could not go unanswered.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said his execution was a “callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime”.

Britain has also imposed sanctions on Iran’s Prosecutor General, saying it would hold the regime to account “for its appalling human rights violations”.

“Sanctioning him today underlines our disgust at Alireza Akbari’s execution,” UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

In a further diplomatic move, the foreign secretary has temporarily withdrawn Britain’s ambassador to Iran, Simon Shercliff, “for further consultations”.

Human rights group Amnesty International called on the UK to investigate claims Mr Akbari was tortured before his death, blasting Iran for showing “pitifully little respect” for human life.

While Dr Sanam Vakil, Iran expert at international affairs think-tank Chatham House, said Mr Akbari’s death would be used by the Iranian regime to suggest a “heavy outside hand” was stoking the anti-government unrest – linking the protests with the accusation that Western nations were trying to “destabilise the Islamic republic”.

Dr Vakil added: “Keeping the narrative of the West being involved is a way to maintain unity among the political establishment.”

The Iranian judiciary’s official news outlet Mizan reported on Saturday that Mr Akbari had been hanged. It did not specify the date when the execution took place.

Iran posted a video of Mr Akbari earlier this week showing what appeared to be forced confessions.

The country’s intelligence ministry described the dual passport holder as “one of the most important agents of the British intelligence service in Iran”.

However, BBC Persian broadcast an audio message on Wednesday from Mr Akbari in which he said he had been tortured and forced to confess on camera to crimes he did not commit.

Mr Akbari’s family had been asked to go to his prison for a “final visit” on Wednesday and his wife said he had been moved to solitary confinement.

Nephew Ramin Forghani has told of his shock at his uncle’s execution, describing it as the sign of a “desperate” regime.

He said his uncle was an Iranian patriot devoted to the country – a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, consultant to the Iranian government on nuclear talks with the West and also a former deputy defence minister.

Mr Akbari had moved to the UK with an investment visa and become a naturalised citizen, his family say.

But Mr Forghani said his uncle had returned to Tehran from the UK following a request from his former boss, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran.

Speaking from Luxembourg, Mr Forghani said: “He was devoted to the country, which is why he went back.

“He was involved with the system from its foundation, and would not contemplate causing harm either to the regime or the population.

“I can only speculate that there has been some power struggle at the very highest levels of the government and they have decided to create this plot against my uncle.”

Mr Forghani links the timing of his execution to the UK’s plans to designate Iran’s powerful IRGC – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – as a terrorist organisation. “This cannot be unrelated,” he said.

Ties between the UK and Iran have deteriorated in recent months since London imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police and other top security figures, in response to the country’s violent crackdown on anti-government protesters.

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