Iran confirms arrest of academic, sentences 'spy' to death

Iranian-British anthropologist Kameel Ahmady is just the latest dual national detained amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its nuclear program.

TEHRAN - An Iranian court has sentenced an individual to death on charges of spying for the United States, the country's judiciary said Tuesday, while confirming the arrest of an Iranian-British anthropologist amid tensions with the West.

According to judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili, the individual sentenced to death has appealed and a final decision will be made by the appeals court. He did not provide further details on the case or the identity of the suspect.

Esmaili also confirmed authorities had detained Iranian-British anthropologist Kameel Ahmady over suspected links to institutes affiliated with foreign intelligence services. He said the case was in the initial investigation phase.

This was the first time Iran acknowledged Ahmady's arrest. His wife Shafagh Rahmani and activists had announced he was detained in August.

"It is true that this person was arrested," said judicial spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili, responding to a question about Ahmady at a press conference in Tehran.

French anthropologist Christian Bromberger wrote in August that Ahmady was "recently arrested", in an article published on the French edition of The Conversation website.

Author of a book in English titled "In the Name of Tradition: Female Genital Mutilation in Iran", Ahmady holds dual British and Iranian citizenship, according to Bromberger, himself an Iran specialist.

Ahmady is subject to a "preliminary investigation" on suspicion of "links to foreign countries and institutes affiliated with foreign (intelligence) services," said Esmaili during the press conference, which was broadcast online.

Ahmady is just the latest dual national detained amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its nuclear program. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord last year and imposed sanctions, crippling Iran's economy. Iran recently has begun inching away from the accord, warning it will take further steps if Europe cannot guarantee Tehran the ability to sell its crude oil on the global market.

Ahmady's arrest comes less than three months after the detention of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was publicised.

On 15 July, French authorities announced Adelkhah had been arrested in Iran. A specialist in Shiite Islam, Adelkhah is the research director at the Centre for International Studies and Research at Sciences Po University in Paris. Esmaili confirmed her arrest the next day.

In August, Iran said it convicted a woman, Aras Amiri, who had worked for the British Council while allegedly spying on cultural activities in Iran. The British Council is a non-political organization that works in education, arts and culture.

Amiri has been jailed for the past year while her case was under investigation. She was sentenced to 10 years.

Another British-Iranian woman held in Tehran, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the "soft toppling" of Iran's government while traveling with her young daughter.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the charity arm of Thomson Reuters, was arrested in April 2016. Her sentence has been widely criticized.

Iran does not recognize dual nationalities.

Esmaili also said on Tuesday the appeals court issued final decisions on two Iranians, identified as Ali Nafarieh and Mohammad Ali Babapour, sentencing them to 10 years imprisonment on charges of spying for the US Another man, Mohammad Aminnassab, was sentenced to 10 years on charges of spying for Britain.

Iran often hands down heavy sentences on similar charges. In August, three people were sentenced to lengthy prison terms over security and spying charges. Hard-liners in Iran view the country as fighting a cultural "soft war" against Westernization, which they believe is attempting to transform Iran's Islamic beliefs.

Also Tuesday, Esmaili said an appeals court had reduced the prison sentence of Hossein Fereidoun, brother of President Hassan Rouhani, over bribery charges, to five years from seven. Iranian media had said in May he had been sentenced to an unspecified prison term for corruption.

Fereidoun, a close confidante of the president, was accused of financial misconduct dating back to 2016, in charges brought by hard-liners who dominate the country's judiciary. His trial began in February, and he has been free on bail since, spending a night in prison in 2017. Rouhani changed his surname from Fereidoun decades ago.