Family of executed Alireza Akbari say he was lured to Iran by 'friend'

Was hanged ‘spy’ the victim of a sting? Grieving family of executed British-Iranian Alireza Akbari claim he was lured back to Iran by a ‘friend’

  • Former deputy defence minister of Iran Alireza Akbari was hanged in Iran
  • Akbari, 61, revealed he suffered 3,500 hours of torture leading up to execution
  • He is said to have been persuaded to return to Tehran by ‘friend’ Ali Shamkhani

The grieving widow of a British-Iranian man executed in Iran spoke last night of her shock amid claims that he was betrayed by a former friend who lured him to his death.

Alireza Akbari, a former deputy defence minister of Iran who lived in the UK for a decade, was hanged after being accused of being an MI6 ‘super spy’.

In a harrowing audio clip recorded before his death, Mr Akbari revealed he suffered 3,500 hours of torture leading up to his execution.

After fleeing Iran in 2009 and living in the UK for a decade, Mr Akbari, 61, is said to have been persuaded to return to Tehran by Ali Shamkhani, his ex-boss and a senior member of the regime, in what appears to have been an elaborate trap.

Alireza Akbari (pictured), a former deputy defence minister of Iran who lived in the UK for a decade, was hanged after being accused of being an MI6 ‘super spy’

Iran executes more people every year than any country in the world. Pictured: Iran’s leader Ayatollah Khamenei 

By Abul Taher, Security Correspondent for The Mail on Sunday

After China, Iran executes more people every year than any country in the world.

The latest data collated by human rights groups shows that in 2021, Iran carried out the death penalty on at least 314 people, its highest total since 2017, compared to more than 1,000 in China.

Executions in Iran are almost always done by hanging, but other methods such as stoning to death for adultery, and throwing someone off a building for homosexuality, are deployed.

Iranian hanging nooses are thick, with seven to ten knotted coils, and are often made from plastic rope that has very little drop. Under the Iranian Rules of Execution of Sentences, the victim’s body is required to hang for 20 to 45 minutes, after which it may be taken from the gallows, and a doctor confirms the death.

Unlike other countries, where a gallows system drops the victims and breaks their necks causing instant death, in Iran the condemned are made to stand on stools which are kicked away causing death by strangulation, which could take as long as 15 minutes.

Hangings are intended as both a punishment and a deterrent, so some executions take place from construction cranes on public roads, with the bodies left suspended for days. But Iran also carries out hangings in prisons.

Alireza Akbari was held in the notorious Evin prison outside Tehran, used to detain murderers, political opponents and foreigners accused of spying. British national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was also held there.

The jail has a courtyard where hangings are carried out, and those about to be executed are moved to solitary confinement before their deaths.

The regime executed 29 prisoners in Evin in one day in 2008.

Amnesty International said Iran executed three children under 18 last year, calling it ‘abhorrent’.

 

Maryam Samadi, Mr Akbari’s wife, said last night from her London home: ‘I am just shocked – we saw no reason or indication for the charges. We could have never imagined this, and I don’t understand the politics behind it.’ His brother, Mehdi Akbari, said: ‘The accusations against him are purely based on forced confessions under extreme duress.’

He told The New York Times that Mr Shamkhani had lured Mr Akbari to Iran, insisting that he must return because the government needed his security and defence expertise. Upon arrival he was almost immediately arrested and interrogated, he said.

Mr Shamkhani then refused to meet or speak with the Akbari family and has tried to distance himself from the case, according to Mr Akbari’s brother.

Mr Akbari’s hanging has sparked crisis meetings in Whitehall, as well as condemnation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was appalled by the execution. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: ‘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.’

The Government last night slapped sanctions on Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, Iran’s hardline chief prosecutor, while Iran’s top diplomat in London was summoned to the Foreign Office as Ministers made clear their ‘disgust’.

It also emerged last night that British ambassador to Iran, Simon Shercliff, has been temporarily recalled from Tehran, and that Ms Samadi was denied a final meeting with her husband before his death and could only talk to him on the phone.

A statement issued by the Iranian judiciary’s mouthpiece, Mizan, stated that after 2005, Mr Akbari began spying for MI6, although it presented no evidence.

It said that Mr Akbari left for Vienna in 2009 under the pretext of a business trip, and once in the Austrian capital, his MI6 handlers coached him to feign a stroke, and took him to a hospital where they staged photographs.

This was apparently a ruse to stop Mr Akbari from returning to Tehran, and to enable his wife and two daughters to leave Iran to visit him in Vienna.

The Mizan notice says that after Mr Akbari’s family were with him, MI6 housed them in Vienna, and then took them to Spain, and then to Britain, where he and his family were given indefinite leave to remain in the UK and British passports. The statement claims the fact that the family were given citizenship so quickly is proof that he was an MI6 spy.

Last night, leading British Iran experts dismissed the judiciary’s claims, saying the regime used such accusation to target opponents, critics and foreigners.

The analysts pointed out the cases of Britons Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori, who were accused of spying and spent years in Evin prison – the same jail where Mr Akbari was held. Both were eventually released.

Catherine Perez-Shakdam, an Iran expert at the Henry Jackson Society think-tank, said: ‘It’s completely ludicrous that they claim Akbari was a spy.

‘They accuse anyone who is a critic of the regime of spying. Akbari did criticise the regime around 2009, that’s why they accused him of spying.’ She added: ‘If Akbari was a spy, he would definitely not go back to Iran in 2019.’

Ms Perez-Shakdam said that the execution came at a time when the Iranian regime was under siege because of weeks of protests caused by the death in police custody of student Mahsa Amini.

Ms Perez-Shakdam said that the execution came at a time when the Iranian regime was under siege because of weeks of protests caused by the death in police custody of student Mahsa Amini (pictured)

MARK ALMOND: Ayatollahs who executed British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbar are hell-bent on a confrontation with the West

Iran’s leaders have been hanging dissidents since the start of the year, as they battle to quell the wave of street protests against the country’s repressive system. But yesterday’s execution of the joint British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari is a brutal step beyond. And it raises the spectre of an international crisis pitting the Islamic republic’s hardliners against the West.

Britain has been targeted as a threat by the Ayatollahs’ regime ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. We are the ‘Little Satan’ in their demonology. America is the ‘Great Satan’, said to be co-ordinating diabolic plots against Iran with its London allies.

Paranoid they might well be, but such fantasies can have catastrophic consequences.

Iranian-British dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent more than five years in jail as a result of the flimsy claim that any Iranian who shows dissent from the regime is a Western spy.

Yesterday’s execution of the joint British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari (pictured) is a brutal step beyond 

After 40 years, and in the face of mass urban protests, the plausibility of those accusations is waning. But far from backing off, the Ayatollahs are doubling down. Iran has developed a growing range of sophisticated weapons, such as ballistic missiles, to the alarm of its neighbours. The fear is that Tehran’s renewed enrichment of uranium means it could soon have both a nuclear warhead and a delivery system capable of hitting its enemies in Israel – and reach deep into Western Europe.

Sadly, it is possible that Britain’s decision to bring sanctions against the regime’s Revolutionary Guards for backing terrorist groups across the Middle East could have triggered the hanging of Akbari.

Tehran had accused him of being the key informant for Israeli agents alleged to have assassinated a nuclear scientist in Iran.

More damning, it was claimed he had helped Donald Trump target and kill the Revolutionary Guards’ commander Qasem Soleimani, a military hero, in Baghdad three years ago.

It is hardly creditable that Akbari, who left Iran’s government 15 years ago, could have had access to hour-by-hour information on the whereabouts of these people.

Blaming the failures of their security services on a scapegoat such as Akbari won’t wash in the outside world. But what it is doing is stoking international tension. Cynically, the Ayatollahs need a foreign crisis to distract from their failure to stifle the populist protest movement, which was sparked by the death in police custody of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, who had not worn her headscarf ‘properly’.

Britain’s attempt to use quiet diplomacy to save Akbari failed, but Tehran probably saw such an approach as a sign of weakness.

Iranian-British dual citizen Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured) spent more than five years in jail as a result of the flimsy claim that any Iranian who shows dissent from the regime is a Western spy

This episode recalls Saddam Hussein’s execution of Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft as a ‘spy’ in 1990 in order to try to show that a Middle Eastern leader could defy a former imperial master.

That brutality in Iraq began the downward slide to the first Gulf War later that year.

Today, Iran’s rulers seem to think that extending their brutality by executing someone with a British passport will rally their people around them. But with the possibility that the regime might be nearing its death throes, this is a very dangerous moment, because Tehran could still wreak havoc.

Its decision to supply Russia with kamikaze drones to attack Ukraine shows that Iran has the weapons to target the West’s energy allies across the Persian Gulf.

Iran’s desperate hardliners see a crisis with the West as the best hope of finding themselves a lifeline. Their support of Russia suggests this could be part of a chain reaction of East-West conflicts that Moscow has deliberately created.

Most chillingly, I fear there is more to come.

Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford.

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