March 25, 2023

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Iran’s execution of British-Iranian Alireza Akbari further raises tensions with UK

Tensions between Iran and the UK are rising after the “barbaric” execution in the Islamic Republic of a British-Iranian man on spying charges, which he denied.

The British government announced it was sanctioning Iran’s prosecutor-general after Alireza Akbari was hanged, to widespread outrage in the West.

Rishi Sunak condemned the “callous and cowardly” killing, which he said was “carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people”.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly, who has also summoned Iran’s chargé d’affaires, said the sanctions underlined the UK’s disgust at the execution adding that prosecutor general Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was “at the heart of Iran’s use of the death penalty”.

Alicia Kearns, chair of parliament’s foreign affairs select committee, called for the UK to change its stance to come down tougher on Iran, “especially to make us safer in the UK by shutting down incubators of Iranian hostilities in London and beyond”.

She labelled the country “a terrorist state”, responsible for the most attempted murders in the UK and the most assassinations in western Europe.

The US ambassador to London said her country condemned the killing of Mr Akbari, who once held high office in Iran’s defence ministry.

“The execution of British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari in Iran is appalling and sickening,” Jane Hartley tweeted. “The United States joins with the UK in condemning this barbaric act. My thoughts are with Alireza’s family.”

Alireza Akbari said gun threats forced him to make false confessions

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Alireza Akbari said gun threats forced him to make false confessions


In a suspected tit-for-tat move after the sanctioning of its prosecutor, Iran summoned the British ambassador, Simon Shercliff, to its foreign ministry.

Tom Tugendhat, former chair of the foreign affairs committee, told The Independent: “Tehran’s execution of Alireza Akbari shows again the cruelty of a regime determined to destroy hope in Iran.

“Their violence against young Iranians is not limited to their own country: as the head of MI5 reminded us last year, they’re also threatening our security by trying to silence journalists and democracy activists here in the UK. We will defend our security.”

President Emmanuel Macron joined the condemnation, saying he stood in solidarity with Britain, and foreign minister Catherine Colonna summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Paris to express outrage.

Graffiti beside the Iranian embassy in London after the execution was announced

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Graffiti beside the Iranian embassy in London after the execution was announced

(Getty Images)

“Iran’s repeated violations of international law cannot go unanswered, especially when it comes to the treatment of the foreign nationals the country arbitrarily detains,” the French foreign ministry said.

Tensions between Iran and the West were already high amid nationwide anti-government protests shaking the Islamic Republic.

The UK, US and others have already sanctioned Iran over its hardline crackdown on street protests by citizens and its supplying Russia with bomb-carrying drones targeting Ukraine.

Ms Kearns told Sky News the execution was “the continuation of the activities of a terrorist state” that had “industrialised hostage-taking”.

Iran is also threatening our security by trying to silence journalists and democracy activists here in the UK

Tom Tugendhat

Calling for Britain to change its stance towards the country, she said: “After every state murder, we must stand by the protesters in Iran, who are calling for an end to state repression, and put in place sanctions against those responsible and supportive of those state murders.”

Iran has alleged, without providing evidence, that Mr Akbari, who ran a private think tank, was an MI6 spy.

It was thought he was arrested in 2019, but details of his case emerged only in recent weeks.

Iranian state television aired a highly edited video of him discussing the accusations, footage that resembled other alleged confessions that activists have described as coerced.

Police on guard outside the Iranian embassy in London

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Police on guard outside the Iranian embassy in London

(Getty Images)

Mr Akbari described being tortured in a message aired by the BBC Farsi-language service on Wednesday.

“By using physiological and psychological methods, they broke my will, drove me to madness and forced me to do whatever they wanted,” he said. “By the force of gun and death threats, they made me confess to false and corrupt claims.”

Iran has not commented on the torture claims. But his death suggests a power struggle within Iran’s theocracy as it tries to contain the demonstrations over the September death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was beaten and died after being arrested by the morality police for “improperly” wearing her hijab.

The United Nations’ human rights chief, Volker Turk, has warned Iran against the “weaponisation” of the death penalty to put down the street protests.

Mr Akbari had a commanding role in Iran’s strategy during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, according to a recording purportedly of his voice.

He then served as deputy to defence minister Ali Shamkhani from 1997 to 2005, and was a close ally of Shamkhani, who is now secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

He also had other security roles including adviser to the Iranian navy and led the implementation of a UN resolution ending the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.

Amnesty International has called on the UK to investigate claims he was tortured.

Freshta Sharif, of Amnesty, said: “This is absolutely terrible news and once again shows how pitifully little respect the Iranian authorities have for the right to life.

“The application of universal jurisdiction should remain an option, with the possibility of a criminal trial being held in the UK or elsewhere outside Iran if there is sufficient evidence.”

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