(CNSNews.com) – The Iranian nuclear scientist executed last week for allegedly spying for the U.S. moved here under under mysterious circumstances in 2009, then returned to Iran a year later because his family back home was threatened with persecution, an Iranian opposition group said Monday.
“By taking [Shahram Amiri’s] family hostage, exerting pressure on his family and making bogus promises, the regime compelled Amiri to return to Iran in 2010, but imprisoned him despite promises to the contrary,” the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said.
“Apparently the regime had threatened Amiri that his family would be persecuted if he did not return and given that his son was at a very young age, Amiri must have been left with no choice but to return,” said Ali Safavi, a U.S.-based NCRI official.
Amir’s execution came six years after he returned to Iran after spending a little more than a year in the United States. At the time he departed, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said he had been in the country “of his own free will and he is free to go.”
Iran first accused the U.S. and Saudis of abducting him while he made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and after his return hailed him as a hero – before putting him on trial for espionage 10 months later. He was reported to have been sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, but after last week’s execution, authorities said that was not the case.
Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Ejei said on Sunday the court of first instance had in fact sentenced him to death, and that the execution took place after the Supreme Court upheld that decision.
Mohseni-Ejei said that Amiri, who had access to Iran’s top secret information, had colluded with “the great Satan.”
“The U.S. intelligence service was outwitted by Iran in this case, as it assumed that all of its moves would remain hidden from our intelligence service,” he said.
After Amiri emerged in the U.S., conflicting video clips were posted online – one in which he accused the CIA of kidnapping him; another in which he said he was in the U.S. of his own free will, but denied he had defected.
Speculation on what information a nuclear scientist may have provided the U.S. remains just that, but in September 2009 – two months after Amiri disappeared in Saudi Arabia – President Obama, along with his French and British counterparts at a G20 summit in Pittsburgh, accused Iran of possessing a previously-undisclosed underground uranium-enrichment plant, near the Shi’ite holy city of Qom.
In July 2010, Amiri presented himself to the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, and made his way back home.
On July 13, 2010, Clinton told reporters when asked about him, “He's free to go. He was free to come. These decisions are his alone to make.”
The NCRI, however, says the regime applied pressure on him by targeting his family back home.
Safavi recalled the case of the popular Iranian pre-revolutionary singer, Marzieh, who was banned from singing publicly after the Islamic revolution, went into exile in Paris in 1994 and joined the exiled opposition movement.
“The regime used a similar tactic with the legendary Iranian diva, Marzieh, and arrested her daughter, when she joined the NCRI in 1994,” he said. “Marzieh of course did not budge and the regime had to release her daughter under international pressure.”
(In February 1995 the Chicago Tribune reported that Marzieh’s adult daughter, Hengameh Amini, had been held for 40 days in solitary confinement, accused of conspiring in her mother’s departure.)
Weeks after Amiri’s June 2009 disappearance while on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, Iran detained three American hikers who strayed into Iranian territory from the Iraqi region of Kurdistan.
In early 2010, then-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the hikers – Sarah Shourd, Joshua Fattal and Shane Bauer – would be freed in return for Iranians held against their will in the United States. He mentioned Amiri by name.
After Amiri returned to Iran that July, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was asked whether there was any link between the hikers and Amiri, after he brought up the two cases simultaneously during a press briefing.
Crowley said the cases were “not connected” and that Washington and Tehran were “not negotiating a swap.”
“But we have shown with an Iranian citizen who chose to come here and has chosen to go home that we’re – he’s free to do so. We would expect the same consideration when it comes to our citizens, when they travel to the region and up to the border between Iraq and Iran.”
Shourd was released two months later on “humanitarian grounds” due to ill health, but Fattal and Bauer were charged with espionage and sentenced in August 2011 to eight years’ imprisonment.
The two were released a month later, however, after the government of Oman posted almost $1 million bail.