WASHINGTON - Iranian-American Amir Hekmati, a former US Marine whose previous death sentence in Iran on espionage charges was overturned, has been secretly retried, convicted of collaborating with the US government and sentenced to 10 years in prison, the New York Times reported on Friday, quoting his lawyer.
The newspaper quoted lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei as saying Hekmati, held since 2011, was not told by Iranian officials about the retrial, conviction or prison sentence. The Times quoted Tabatabaei as saying Hekmati was retried by a revolutionary court in December and convicted of "practical collaboration with the American government."
The US State Department did not confirm the developments but reiterated America calls for his release.
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"We remain concerned about the fate of Mr. Hekmati, who has been detained by Iranian officials for over two years and was sentenced on fabricated espionage charges. We again ask Iranian authorities to release him so he may be safely reunited with his family," said a State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Times said Tabatabaei suggested that Hekmati possibly could be released in a matter of months, particularly if the United States frees at least some Iranian prisoners. The newspaper said the lawyer did not name these prisoners.
Tabatabaei said that "a lot depends on the Americans," the Times reported. "If they show their good will, it will become much easier to get Mr. Hekmati freed," the lawyer was quoted as saying.
The Hekmati case is another irritant in relations between the United States and Iran. The report about Hekmati's case came on the same day that the US government said it would not grant a visa to Iran's proposed UN ambassador, citing the envoy's links to the 1979-1981 hostage crisis.
Hekmati was arrested in August 2011, his family says, and convicted of spying for the CIA, a charge his relatives and the United States deny. His family says he was detained while visiting his grandmother in Tehran.
He was sentenced to death, but a higher court nullified the penalty in March 2012 and sent the case to another court.
Tabatabaei said he learned of the retrial, conviction and sentence only recently in discussions with Iranian judiciary officials, the Times reported. The newspaper said the lawyer informed Hekmati, who is being held in Tehran's Evin prison, as well as his family members in Flint, Michigan.
Hekmati's family has called for his release. The family has struggled to pursue the case because Iran and the United States have no direct diplomatic relations. Ties were cut in 1980 after Iranian students took 52 US diplomats hostage following the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Hekmati served as an infantryman, language and cultural adviser and Arabic and Persian linguist in the US Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005, performing some of his service in Iraq.
The Times reported that Tabatabaei, who is well connected to Iran's highest leaders, gave the information about Hekmati in interviews this week at his office in Tehran, providing the first authoritative disclosures in more than two years about the status of the case.
The United States and other world powers are engaged in negotiations with Iran over curbing the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for easing economic sanctions.