Tehran: Iran executed a nuclear scientist who defected to the US in 2009 and later returned to the Islamic Republic under mysterious circumstances a year later, authorities said today, acknowledging for the first time that they had secretly detained, tried and convicted a man authorities once heralded as a hero.
Shahram Amiri vanished in 2009 while on a religious pilgrimage to Muslim holy sites in Saudi Arabia, only to reappear a year later in a series of online videos filmed in the US. He then walked into the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington and demanded to be sent home.
In interviews, Amiri described being kidnapped and held against his will by Saudi and American spies, while US officials said he was to receive millions of dollars for his help in understanding Iran’s contested nuclear programme.
He was hanged the same week as Tehran executed a group of militants, a year after his country agreed to a landmark accord to limit uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Speaking to journalists today, Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi said Amiri was convicted of spying charges as he “provided the enemy with vital information of the country.”
Amiri had access to classified information “and he was linked to our hostile and number one enemy, or the Great Satan,” Ejehi said, referring to the US.
Ejehi did not explain why authorities never announced Amiri’s conviction or his subsequent, failed appeals court bid. He said Amiri had access to lawyers.
“He neither repented nor compensated and he was trying to leak some information from inside prison, too,” Ejehi said, without elaborating.
News about 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 since coming home.
On Tuesday, Iran announced it had executed a number of criminals, describing them mainly as militants from the country’s Kurdish minority. Then, an obituary notice circulated Amiri’s hometown of Kermanshah, a city some 500 kilometers southwest of Tehran, according to the Iranian pro-reform daily newspaper Shargh.
It announced a memorial service on Thursday for Amiri, calling him a “bright moon” and “invaluable gem.”
Manoto, a private satellite television channel based in London believed to be run by those who back Iran’s ousted shah, first reported Saturday that Amiri had been executed.
BBC Farsi also quoted Amiri’s mother saying her son’s neck bore ligature marks suggesting he had been hanged by the state.
The Associated Press could not immediately reach Amiri’s family. US officials told the AP in 2010 that Amiri was paid USD 5 million to offer the CIA information about Iran’s nuclear programme, though he left the country without the money.
They said Amiri, who ran a radiation detection programme in Iran, travelled to the US and stayed there for months under his own free will.