“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.