US Translator Facing Iranian Death Sentence Gets Retrial

by Translation Guy on March 7, 2012

There was an appeal on his verdict,” chief government prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei told a news conference. “The Supreme Court found shortcomings in the case and sent it for review by an equivalent branch” of the courts.

Hekmati was sentenced to death in Iran January 9 for spying for the Central Intelligence Agency. Circumstances of Hekmati’s arrest remain unclear, but his family has reported that he was imprisoned by authorities during his first-ever visit to Iran to meet his grandmother.

Hekmati confessed on Iranian state television before his sentencing last year on spy charges that read like something out of George Smiley novel.

In the broadcast, Hekmati confessed that “It was their [CIA] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let the Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material and contact me afterwards.” This because his CIA taskmasters had ordered him “to become a source for [Iran’s] Intelligence Ministry” and remain in Tehran “for three weeks and feed them this information, get some money for it and come back.”

In sentencing Hekmati, the court described him as a “mohareb,” an Islamic legal term meaning that he “waged war against God,” and a “mofsed,” or someone who “spreads corruption on the earth.” The judge, Abolghassem Salavati, has presided over similar show trials against activists, sentencing at least three people to death after similarly labeling them, according to Thomas Erdrink in the Washington Post.

The US government denies that Hekmati is a spy. The State Department had no access to Hekmati in prison through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran which represents US interests. “The Iranians claim that he is an Iranian citizen and thus there is no access requirement,” said an anonymous State Department official.

Hekmati’s mother who was able to visit her son in prison several times last month reports through lawyers that he “is in bad shape.”

The retrial is considered a positive sign by his Iranian attorney, Mohammad Hossein Aghassi. “We hope that now his death sentence will be overturned,” Aghassi said. “It doesn’t seem that any deal has been made with the U.S. There is still a possibility of him being executed… But our hopes are up now.”

For more on Hekmati’s professional background and how it may have attracted the interest of the Iranian government, and how they may have lured Hekmati to the country, check out this earlier post on Translation Guy.


  1. Niko Zeil says:

    Sounds to me like the iranian gov needs a few better translators themselves.

  2. Hank says:

    I noticed his attorny is Iranian. Did he get to chose him or was he appointed? Who’s side is he actaully on?

    • Ken says:

      Teh attorney had friended me on Facebook, so I reached out (in English only, I confess) but haven’t heard back. My impression from what I read is that he is very active on his client’s behalf.

  3. When reading something like this I just don’t know what to say. It makes the things that so many of up do on a daily basis seem so trivial. I hope and pray the best for him. Thanks for the update, Ken.

  4. Aaron King says:

    How can there be hope of this being overturned when the supreme court handed the case back to the same court that sentenced him in the first place?

  5. Erik Gentes says:

    If he waged war against God, shouldn’t they lit God deal with it and not themselves?

    • Ken says:

      My CFO said something similar the other day when we were looking at receivables, and discussing our collections strategy. “Kill ’em all, and let God sort them out.” I think she was joking. But on the relationship between matters of faith and policy in Iran, it’s hard to figure.

  6. Simon Camin says:

    Just because he said it doesn’t mean he confessed to it. I think we all know how things work there.

  7. As much as I want to have peace and equality in this world, acts like this just make me think certain religions do nothing but brainwash and that damage cannot be undone.

  8. Poor guy. I have seen movies like this, but you can only hope in the end that it was just a creative writers imagination thinking this up. This guy is living it and I think it isn’t a happy ending like in the movies.

  9. I know the US policy is not to bargain, but have they tried to do anything other than the State Dept contacting the embassy in Switzerland? I would think that if the US really wanted to to help, they could do something.

    • Ken says:

      What’s a Great Satan to do, Timm?

  10. I am surprised that an appeal is even a part of the criminal process there. This is simply a political ploy.

  11. Jack says:

    I cannot imagine what he is going through. He is in my thoughts and I can only hope that things turn out well for Hekmati.

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