WASHINGTON (AP) - The family of an American man sentenced to death in Iran for allegedly being a CIA agent said Monday he was visiting relatives there and not spying.
Behnaz Hekmati, mother of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, said in an email to The Associated Press that she and her husband Ali are "shocked and terrified" that their son has been sentenced to death.
She said the verdict is "the result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair." Iran charged that Hekmati received special training and had served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for an intelligence mission.
A court convicted him of working with a hostile country, belonging to the CIA and trying to accuse Iran of involvement in terrorism, according to a state radio report Monday. The 28-year-old former military translator was born in Arizona and graduated from high school in Michigan.
His family is of Iranian origin. His father, Ali, a professor at a community college in Flint, Mich., has said his son was visiting his grandmothers in Iran.
The State Department has demanded his release. In the email, his mother said her son did not engage in any acts of spying, or "'fighting against God,' as the convicting judge has claimed in his sentence. Amir is not a criminal. His very life is being exploited for political gain."
"A grave error has been committed, and we have authorized our legal representatives to make direct contact with the Iranian authorities to find a solution to this misunderstanding," the family statement said. "We pray that Iran will show compassion and not murder our son, Amir, a natural born American citizen, who was visiting Iran and his relatives for the first time."