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The Farda Briefing: In Major Escalation, Tehran Hangs British-Iranian Dual National On Spying Charges

In addition to spying, Alireza Akbari was accused of involvement in the 2020 assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Tehran blamed on Israel.
In addition to spying, Alireza Akbari was accused of involvement in the 2020 assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Tehran blamed on Israel.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I've been following over the past week and what I'm watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

On January 14, Tehran announced the execution of British-Iranian dual national Alireza Akbari, a deputy defense minister under the current head of Iran's top security body.

Akbari, deputy to Ali Shamkhani during the administration of reformist former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005), moved to Britain in 2008 after being detained in Iran. He was arrested upon his return to Tehran in 2019 and was sentenced to death last week for allegedly spying for Britain.

Akbari was also accused of playing a role in the 2020 assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which Tehran has blamed on Israel. Akbari's death was announced just hours after British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly called on Iran not to follow through "with their brutal threat of execution." In an audio message obtained by the BBC, Akbari denied the charges against him and said he had been tortured to confess to unidentified "false and corrupt claims."

Why It Matters: The execution of Akbari is a major escalation by Iran, which has a record of jailing foreigners and dual nationals and using them as pawns in its disputes with Western countries.

The "barbaric act" was swiftly condemned by Britain, France, and the United States. Some observers, however, have suggested Akbari's execution is evidence of factional score-settling within Iran's clerical regime and an attempt to undermine National Security Council head Shamkhani.

By executing Akbari, who was described as "a super spy," Tehran could also be attempting to save face following embarrassing security lapses, including Fakhrizadeh's killing in broad daylight near the Iranian capital.

What's Next: Akbari's hanging has deteriorated already strained ties with Britain, which subsequently recalled its ambassador and blacklisted Iranian Prosecutor-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri.

The execution also came amid reports that London is reconsidering its support for the 2015 nuclear deal and reviewing whether to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization, a move that could prompt retaliation by Tehran and a further escalation of tensions.

As Iran has continued its brutal crackdown against antiestablishment protests around the country, exiled opposition members and activists have called on Britain and the European Union to follow the example set by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, which designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization in 2019.

Stories You Might Have Missed

Detained U.S.-Iranian businessman Siamak Namazi has launched a seven-day hunger strike at a Tehran prison, imploring U.S. President Joe Biden to bring him home to the United States.

Namazi was arrested in October 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in prison on spying charges that have been dismissed by Washington as baseless.

"When the Obama administration unconscionably left me in peril and freed the other American citizens Iran held hostage on January 16, 2016, the U.S. government promised my family to have me safely home within weeks," Namazi wrote in an open letter to Biden that was released by his lawyer. "Yet seven years and two presidents later, I remain caged in Tehran's notorious Evin prison."

Iran plans to change the content of textbooks in foreign languages used in private schools. The censorship of content that the authorities deem out of line with the Islamic republic's values follows sharp criticism of such materials by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What We're Watching

Several days of gas cuts in Torbat-e Jam in northeastern Iran led to a protest in front of the governor's office on January 16, during which angry protesters accused authorities of inefficiency.

Iranians have faced gas shortages during a sharp drop in temperatures that forced the government to briefly close schools and government offices in several cities, including the capital, Tehran, to reduce consumption.

What's Next: The gas shortages in Iran -- a country that boasts the world's second-largest reserves -- could add to public anger against the clerical establishment, which has employed lethal force to contain mass protests against its rule.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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