Iran sentences alleged UK and US spies up to 10 years in prison

Morad Tahbaz and Niloufar Bayani have been jailed for 10 years on spying charges

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves as he meets with people in Tehran, Iran February 18, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Iran has sentenced eight environmental activists, including an Iranian who has British and American citizenship, to prison sentences of up to 10 years on charges of spying for the US and acting against national security.

Two of the activists, Morad Tahbaz and Niloufar Bayani, received 10 years each and were ordered to return the money they allegedly received from the US government for their services.

Mr Tahbaz is an Iranian who also holds US and British citizenship.

Iran does not recognise dual nationalities, meaning Iranians it detains cannot receive consular assistance from their other countries.

In most cases, dual nationals have faced secret charges in closed-door hearings before Iran’s Revolutionary Court, which handles cases involving alleged attempts to overthrow the government.

Iran’s judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, said two other activists, Houman Jokar and Taher Ghadirian, were each given eight-year sentences for “collaborating with the hostile government of America”.

Another three, Sam Rajabi, Sepideh Kashan Doust and Amirhossein Khaleghi Hamidi, were sentenced to six years in prison each. The eighth, Abdolreza Kouhpayeh, was given four years.

All were arrested in early 2018.

A ninth activist who was arrested at the time, Kavous Seyed Emami, an Iranian-Canadian national, died while in custody under disputed circumstances in February 2018.

His widow then was initially blocked from flying out of Iran, but was later able to leave.

Iran is also holding other prisoners with ties to the West, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman sentenced to five years on claims of planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while travelling in Iran with her young daughter.

In this undated photo provided by the Free Nazanin Campaign, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe hugs her daughter Gabriella, in Iran.  Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been allowed to leave an Iranian prison for three days, her husband said Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested during a holiday with her toddler daughter in April 2016. Iranian authorities accuse her of plotting against the government. Her family denies this, saying says she was in Iran to visit family. (Free Nazanin Campaign/via AP)

Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi and his father Baquer, 81, a former Unicef representative who served as governor of Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province under the US-backed shah, are both serving 10-year prison sentences on espionage charges.

Iranian-American Robin Shahini was released on bail in 2017 after staging a hunger strike while serving an 18-year prison sentence for “collaboration with a hostile government”.

Mr Shahini has since returned to America and is now suing Iran in the US Federal Court.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorised CIA mission, remains missing.

This month, Iran’s Supreme Court confirmed the death penalty for Amir Rahimpour, who was convicted of spying for the CIA.

Iranian state media has reported that Mr Rahimpour shared details with the spy agency on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Mr Esmaili said at the time that Mr Rahimpor would soon be executed.

Iran has previously sentenced alleged American and Israeli spies to death.

The most recent to be executed was Shahram Amiri, who defected to the US at the height of western efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear programme.

When Mr Amiri returned in 2010, he was welcomed with flowers by government leaders and even went on the Iranian talk-show circuit.

Then he mysteriously disappeared.

Mr Amiri was hanged in August 2016, the same week in which Tehran executed a group of militants and a year after it agreed to a landmark accord to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Tension has remained high between Iran and the US since President Donald Trump withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal.

But a US drone strike in January, which killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps general Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad, led to a massive escalation and prompted Tehran to retaliate with missile strikes on Iraqi bases housing American troops.