Iran sentences American to death in spy case

Iran has sentenced an American ex-Marine to death, accusing him of espionage.

A court convicted Amir Mirzaei Hekmati of "working for an enemy country," as well as membership in the CIA and "efforts to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism," the semi-official Fars news agency reported Monday.

Hekmati's family and the U.S. government deny the allegations.

The sentence came down five months after Hekmati's arrest.

Iran's state-run news agency IRNA, on its English website, said the court found him "caught red-handed in armed struggle against God" and "corrupt on Earth."

"In the proceedings Hekmati said he had the motivation to infiltrate (the) Iranian intelligence system on behalf of the CIA," the IRNA report said.

Hekmati's parents said they were "shocked and terrified" by the news.

"We believe that this verdict is the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair," Behnaz Hekmati wrote in a statement on behalf of herself and her husband, Ali.

"Amir did not engage in any acts of spying, or 'fighting against God,' as the convicting judge has claimed in his sentence. Amir is not a criminal. His very life is being exploited for political gain," the statement said.

"A grave error has been committed, and we have authorized our legal representatives to make direct contact with the Iranian authorities to find a solution to this misunderstanding. We pray that Iran will show compassion and not murder our son, Amir, a natural born American citizen, who was visiting Iran and his relatives for the first time."

The statement also said Iran was denying that Amir is a U.S. citizen.

The U.S. State Department said it was working to confirm the reports about the sentence.

"If true, we strongly condemn this verdict," said department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. "Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue. The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons."

The department urged Iran "to grant the Swiss protecting power immediate access to Mr. Hekmati, grant him access to legal counsel, and release him without delay. "

In the absence of diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, Switzerland serves as the "protecting power" for U.S. interests in the country.

Previously, Hekmati's family members said he was being represented by a government-appointed lawyer, despite their repeated efforts to hire a private lawyer for him.

Hekmati was arrested in August while visiting his grandmother and other relatives, his family in Michigan said last month.

The Hekmatis said their son served in the Marines from 2001 to 2005. Later, he started his own linguistics company and contracted his services to the military as well as civilian businesses.

His military contracts included cultural competency training. He worked with troops at military bases to promote understanding and positive communication with people of other cultures, his family said.

Fars reported that Hekmati said he worked for the U.S. Army for four years and later the CIA, where he was sent to Afghanistan and had access to secret documents.