UK officials from the Prime Minister downwards have condemned the execution of Iran’s former deputy defence minister, a dual British-Iranian national, in the strongest of terms. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has described it as ‘a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime’. The chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Alicia Kearns, said it was ‘another horrifying example of the Iranian regime… weaponising British nationals and industrialising hostage taking,’ And the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, warned of consequences, saying it would ‘not stand unchallenged’. There will doubtless be a lot more condemnation from London in the hours and days to come.
Alireza Akbari had been charged with spying for the UK, tried in secret and sentenced to death. He had adamantly denied the accusations, saying, in a final smuggled video obtained by the BBC’s Persian Service, that a filmed confession had been extracted only after many hours of torture. The Iranian judiciary’s news outlet confirmed his death by hanging on Saturday morning, without giving a date or a time.
On the face of it, Akbari’s execution looks like another defeat for the UK’s preferred softly-softly response to the arrests and kidnappings of British nationals overseas. His plight was only made public in what turned out to be his last days. His name had gone unmentioned as the names of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori featured in the headlines; it remained unmentioned after they were released. Both sides, it would appear, regarded the stakes as high.
Whatever the truth, much remains sketchy. Akbari was a deputy defence minister in Iran between for several years. Sometime (unspecified) he left the country and, on some also unspecified date, he obtained UK citizenship. What he did and what resources he lived off in those years is not clear. In 2019 he travelled back to Iran, on an invitation to advise government officials, only to be arrested in what appears to have been a classic trap.
Throughout, there was government and media silence.