A British-Iranian national has been executed in Iran after being accused of spying for the UK.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “appalled” by the execution of Alireza Akbari, saying: “This was a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people.
“My thoughts are with Alireza’s friends and family.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly added: “Iran has executed a British national.
“This barbaric act deserves condemnation in the strongest possible terms.
“This will not stand unchallenged.”
Iran’s charge d’affaires in London has been summoned to the Foreign Office to make clear the Government’s “disgust”, he said.
The Iranian judiciary claimed Mr Akbari, who was deputy defence minister under former president Mohammad Khatami until 2001, was a “key spy” for the British government, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
It said Iranian intelligence unmasked the alleged MI6 spy by feeding him false information and described him as “one of the most important infiltrators of the country’s sensitive and strategic centres”.
Mr Akbari claimed he was tortured and given mind-altering drugs and forced to confess to crimes he did not commit.
Iran’s Mizan news agency, associated with the country’s judiciary, tweeted that Mr Akbari had been hanged. It did not say when or where it took place amid rumours he had been executed days ago.
Sky News Middle East correspondent Alistair Bunkall said reports of the execution appeared “credible and accurate”.
He said Mr Akbari was arrested in 2019 and charged with spying after he was accused of receiving “hundreds of thousands of pounds” for providing intelligence to Britain – claims he denied.
“His family in Tehran were called to his prison on Wednesday for what was described as a ‘final visit’,” Bunkall said.
He added that Mr Akbari’s family members had reported he had been moved to solitary confinement during his time in prison.
‘A barbaric regime’
Mr Cleverly had appealed for Mr Akbari’s release when reports of his planned execution emerged.
Earlier this week, Mr Cleverly tweeted: “Iran must halt the execution of British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari and immediately release him.
“This is a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life.”
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Because the reports of Alireza Akbari’s hanging have come from the Mizen News Agency, a state-run outlet closely linked to the Iranian Judiciary, we must assume them to be accurate. The reports don’t say when the execution happened.
Iran has recently executed a number of political prisoners for their involvement in ongoing anti-government protests. Although the execution of Mr Akbari isn’t directly linked to those demonstrations, relations between Britain and Iran have worsened as a result of British government criticism of the Iranian regime during the protests.
Mr Akbari held British-Iranian citizenship, but Tehran doesn’t recognise dual-nationals, which made it hard for the British government to get consular access to him whilst he was in prison. His family was reportedly called to the prison on Wednesday for a ‘final visit’.
Increasingly desperate attempts by the British government and US State Department to avoid his execution were ignored by Iran so now focus will be on a British response – perhaps further sanctions, although they don’t appear to be having much effect.
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Alicia Kearns had also condemned the planned execution, accusing the regime in Tehran of reacting because it felt “cornered” as a result of international sanctions and anti-government protests.
“It is another horrifying example of the Iranian regime, because they feel they are cornered, because there is such significant pressure from sanctions, weaponising British nationals and industrialising hostage-taking,” she told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.
On Friday, US State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said: “The charges against Alireza Akbari and his sentencing to execution were politically motivated. His execution would be unconscionable.
“We are greatly disturbed by the reports that Mr Akbari was drugged, tortured while in custody, interrogated for thousands of hours, and forced to make false confessions.”
She added: “More broadly, Iran’s practices of arbitrary and unjust detentions, forced confessions, and politically motivated executions are completely unacceptable and must end.”