Iran has executed a nuclear scientist convicted of handing over “confidential and vital” information to the United States, a judicial spokesman said on Sunday.
“Shahram Amiri was hanged for revealing the country’s top secrets to the enemy,” Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejeie told reporters in Tehran.
Mr. Amiri had disappeared in Saudi Arabia in June 2009 and resurfaced a year later in the United States.
Conflicting accounts said he had either been abducted or had defected at a time when international tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme were at their peak.
In a surprise move, Mr. Amiri then returned to Tehran in July 2010, saying he had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Farsi-speaking CIA agents in the Saudi city of Medina.
Scientist’s whereabouts were kept hidden by Iran
Iran acknowledged for the first time on Sunday that the nation had secretly detained, tried and convicted a man authorities once heralded as a hero.
Mr. Amiri vanished in June 2009 while on a religious pilgrimage to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia, only to reappear a year later in a series of contradictory online videos filmed in the U.S.
He then walked into the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington and demanded to be sent home. He returned to Iran in July 2010.
In interviews, Mr. Amiri described being kidnapped in Medina and held against his will by Saudi and American spies, while U.S. officials told AP he was to receive about $5 million for his help in understanding Iran’s contested nuclear programme.
Speaking to journalists on Sunday, Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi said Mr. Amiri was convicted of spying charges in a death sentence case upheld by an appeals court.
“This person who had access to the country’s secret and classified information had been linked to our hostile and No. 1 enemy, America, the Great Satan” Mr. Ejehi said. “He provided the enemy with vital and secret information of the country.”
Mr. Ejehi did not explain why authorities never announced Mr. Amiri’s conviction, though he said Mr. Amiri had access to lawyers.
News about Mr. Amiri, born in 1977, has been scant since his return to Iran. Last year, his father Asgar Amiri told the BBC’s Farsi-language service that his son had been held at a secret site. Mr. Ejehi said Mr. Amiri’s family mistakenly believed he only received a 10-year prison sentence.
News came on Saturday
An obituary notice for Mr. Amiri was circulated in his hometown of Kermanshah last week, a city some 500 km southwest of Tehran, according to the Iranian pro-reform daily newspaper Shargh.
Manoto, a private satellite television channel based in London, first reported Saturday that Mr. Amiri had been executed. BBC Farsi also quoted Mr. Amiri’s mother saying her son’s neck bore ligature marks suggesting he had been hanged by the state.
Mr. Amiri’s case indirectly found its way back into the spotlight in the U.S. last year with the release of State Department e-mails sent and received by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
An e-mail forwarded to Ms. Clinton by senior adviser Jake Sullivan on July 5, 2010 just nine days before Mr. Amiri returned to Tehran appears to reference the scientist.
“We have a diplomatic, ‘psychological’ issue, not a legal one. Our friend has to be given a way out,” the e-mail by Richard Morningstar, a former State Department special envoy for Eurasian energy, read.
Another e-mail, sent by Mr. Sullivan on July 12, 2010, appears to obliquely refer to the scientist just hours before his appearance at the Pakistani Embassy became widely known. “The gentleman … has apparently gone to his country’s interests section because he is unhappy with how much time it has taken to facilitate his departure,” Mr. Sullivan wrote. “This could lead to problematic news stories in the next 24 hours.”