Ali Reza Akbari: Family insist he has not been executed

Audio clip emerges of British-Iranian speaking about forced confession

Former Iranian deputy defence minister Ali Reza Akbari during an interview in Tehran. EPA
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The family of a dual British-Iranian national on death row have denied reports he has already been executed, as an audio recording emerged of him speaking about his forced confession.

Ali Reza Akbari, a former deputy defence minister of Iran, is facing execution after being convicted in Tehran of spying for MI6, the UK’s foreign intelligence agency.

On Thursday, reports in the Iranian media suggested he had already been killed.

However, his family told BBC Persian the information is false.

The service also obtained a new audio file, in which Mr Akbari speaks about the torture he endured during 3,500 hours of interrogation to obtain his confession.

In the clip, he said: “I was given new clothes and asked to dye my hair to be released but then I was taken to a film studio and threatened with a gun to falsely confess.”

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Friday that Iran must not follow through with threat of execution of Mr Akbari.

"The Iranian regime should be in no doubt. We are watching the case of Alireza Akbari closely," he said in a tweet.

Mr Akbari left Iran after stepping down as deputy defence minister in 2001.

He settled in the UK, where he became a naturalised citizen and lived for more than a decade before his arrest in Iran in 2019.

His wife, Maryam Samadi, who lives in Hammersmith, London, said the family decided against raising his case publicly in the hope he would be released on an internal appeal.

However, he was reportedly told three months ago his final appeal had been rejected.

She raised his case publicly earlier this week after he was placed in solitary confinement and informed his execution was imminent.

She told The Guardian: “He is entirely innocent and the victim of political games inside the country.

“There is no evidence that he was a spy except a confession that was extracted after he was drugged and interrogated for 3,500 hours.

“He loves his country, but this is part of a political power game inside Tehran. His only contacts with British officials were those permitted by his official status.”

Mr Akbari served as deputy defence minister under Mohammad Khatami, the reformist president of Iran from 1997 to 2005.

He acted as an advocate for the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 between the West and Tehran and was close to Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

Ms Samadi said “he came out of government since public service was no longer possible [and] he found himself politically ostracised.

Ali Reza Akbari during an interview in Tehran. AFP

“He decided to leave Iran, travelling to Austria and then Spain before we settled on a business in the UK.”

The UK intensified its condemnation of Iran, as MPs in Parliament called on the Conservative government to adopt a tougher line on the regime and designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organisation.

MPs urged the government to take action to “stop that death penalty going ahead”, in reference to Mr Akbari’s sentence.

He turned the government’s condemnation of Iran up a notch when he branded the sentence handed to the dual national “a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life”.

Families fighting for detainees' freedom

The family of Mr Akbari this week became the latest to battle the state from Britain as they sought his safe return.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. PA

Others to have campaigned for their family members' release include Richard Ratcliffe, who staged regular protests to call for charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's return.

They included hunger strikes and sleeping on the streets of London at the UK’s government’s “failure” to negotiate her release.

He said Tehran “remains the primary abuser in Nazanin's case”, but “the UK is also letting us down”.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in 2016 while visiting with her daughter Gabriella and eventually released by Iran along with another British-Iranian hostage, Anoosheh Ashoori, in March 2021.

The breakthrough came after the UK settled a £400 million ($482 million) debt with the isolated nation, dating back to the 1970s. Both governments denied a link between the historic arrears and the release of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Mr Ashoori, a retired civil engineer, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran and later convicted of spying for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, despite having lived in the UK for 20 years.

Anoosheh Ashoori. Victoria Pertusa / The National

Last May, his daughter, Elika Ashoori, criticised the government for failing to raise his case publicly.

In a video on Twitter she spoke of her “deep disappointment” at the decision and asked what it would take for the UK Foreign Office to give her father the same publicity as Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

“My dad … is 67 years old,” she said. “He's showing all signs of Covid in Evin prison. He has not been granted medical furlough. He has no access to medical care or basic hygiene. How much closer to death does he have to get for the British government and the media to be interested or give his life value?”

She accused the UK government of “sheer neglect” and of abrogating responsibility for the lives of all detained dual citizens.

Updated: January 14, 2023, 8:36 AM