A day after news broke that U.S. citizen and former game developer Amir Hekmati was sentenced to death by the Iranian government, a glimmer of hope emerged that the 28-eight-year old's life might be spared.
"The news is not positive, but we try to reassure [his family] that it is not over," Pierre Prosper a former diplomat who is now working with Hekmati's family to secure the American's release from the Iranian regime, told CNN. "We will engage with the government and we hope that they will show compassion."
Prosper is a former war crimes prosecutor who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush and helped secure the release in 2010 of an American businessman who had been held for two years by the Iranian authorities.
Hekmati's case is severe. He has been accused by the Iranians of working for the CIA and spying on their country and has been sentenced to death. In December, Hekmati appeared on Iranian TV to "confess" these crimes, though Hekmati's family and the U.S. government deny the confession was true and say Hekmati was no spy.
"The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons," a State Department spokesperson told reporters yesterday.
The Iranians are allowing for the possibility that the death sentence won't be carried out. They say Hekmati has 20 days to appeal his sentence. "If the sentence is appealed, then the Court of Appeals will hear the case. If not, then the sentence is final," Iranian judiciary spokesman Mohseni Ejeie said, as quoted by CNN through the country's semi-official Iranian Student News Agency.
Hekmati's mother has pleaded for mercy in a letter posted on the FreeAmir website. "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."
Hekmati's supporters say he was not given a fair trial. "This was literally a half-day trial," he told CNN. "He was in detention only for a few months, and the verdict came within weeks. We also are troubled by the fact there's been no transparency, so it is really hard to see what happened."
Hekmati's supposed confession included the claim that Kuma Games, for which he appears to have worked some time in the last several years, was funded by the CIA and intended to influence public opinion in the Middle East. Kuma has not acknowledged that Hekmati worked for them, but an online filing indicates that he was part of a Kuma team that received a $96,000 grant by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a language training game. An Iranian newspaper previously published accusations that Kuma, which specializes in ripped-from-the-headlines war games was a U.S. government propaganda front, an assertion Kuma boss Keith Halper has denied.
Relations between the U.S. and Iran are the worst they've been in years, with America and its allies applying increasingly tough economic pressure on a country they believe intends to weaponize its nuclear energy program. Iran has remained defiant, saying it's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Iran has repeatedly declined to cooperate with international inspectors and began enriching uranium at a second site this past weekend, expanding its nuclear ambitions.
Hekmati's fate could be used as a bargaining chip regarding Iran's nuclear program and the sanctions against the nation. Prosper and Hekmati's family, however, wants to de-politicize the proces and simply free a man they say was doing nothing more than visiting relatives in Iran.