Hekmati death sentence raises U.S.-Iran tensions
Former Marine's family shocked, 'terrified'
Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an American and former Marine, has been sentenced to death by the Iranian Revolutionary Court, shocking the world and increasing tensions between the United States and Iran.
Following Hekmati’s sentence, his parents released a statement, saying they were “shocked and terrified” by the news, CNN reported. His mother, Behnaz Hekmati, said in the statement:
"We believe that this verdict is the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair. 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.”
Hekmati’s family said he was being represented by a government-appointment lawyer even though they tried to hire a private lawyer for him, CNN reported. He is the first American to receive a death sentence in Iran since the Iran revolution more than 30 years ago, The New York Times reported.
"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,” his mother said in the statement, CNN reported.
According to the U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report on Iran, the court system is, in practice, "corrupt and subject to political influence,” CNN reported. The United States has demanded his release, The Times reported.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Hekmati's father reiterated what the statement said, strongly denying his son was a spy and insisting the confession was forced.
"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Hekmati said to ABC News. "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."
Hekmati, of Iranian origin, was arrested in August when he was visiting his family in Qatar, his family in Michigan said in December. They didn’t make his detention public until last month after Iranian state television broadcast video images of him, The Times reported. He was charged with receiving espionage training at American bases in Afghanistan and Iraq before infiltrating Iran.
“It’s a very shocking sentence,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a New York-based advocacy group that has been following Hekmati’s case, The Times reported.
Hekmati is a dual U.S.-Iranian national, but Iran considers him only Iranian since the country doesn’t recognize dual citizenship, the Associated Press reported. According to his parents, Hekmati was a US Marine from 2001 to 2005, and later started his own linguistics company, making contracts with the military and civilian businesses, CNN reported.
Hekmati's sentence could also strain U.S.-Iran ties, which have been stressed in the last few months since the West started imposing more sanctions on Iran after reports that the country is building up its nuclear program.
“This case is going to ratchet up the pressure” on President Barack Obama, said Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported. “It’s going to embolden those who want the United States to take a tougher stance on Iran. It could very well turn into a campaign issue.”
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.