Iran overturns US game designer's death sentence - Report

Supreme Court of embattled nation said to be seeking retrial for Kuma Games veteran as part of nuclear program political gambit.

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In January, former US Marine Amir Mirzaei Hekmati was sentenced to death by an Iranian court after being convicted of spying and creating propaganda material while serving as a designer at wargame studio Kuma Games. The New York Times reports today that Hekmati's death sentence has been overturned by Iran's Supreme Court, and a new trial has been ordered.

 Amir Mirzaei Hekmati. Image Credit: Reuters.
Amir Mirzaei Hekmati. Image Credit: Reuters.

The 28-year-old man's ordeal began in August 2011, after the game designer was arrested in Iran on charges of espionage while reportedly visiting his family there. Iran reportedly based its charges on Hekmati's work at Kuma Games, which it claimed served as a propaganda tool commissioned by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the CIA.

According to The Times' report, the Iranian Students' News Agency and the Fars News agency carried word of the development in Hekmati's case today. Both agencies are tied to the Iranian government, The Times reports, and they note that prosecutors have indicated "shortcomings had been found in the case."

As part of his original conviction, Hekmati purportedly confessed to Iran's charges. According to Iranian state-run newspaper The Tehran Times, Hekmati reportedly stated that his work at Kuma was commissioned by the CIA to sway public opinion about the Iraq War in the Middle East.

"After Darpa, I was recruited by Kuma Games Company, a computer games company, which received money from CIA to design and make special films and computer games to change the public opinion's mindset in the Middle East and distribute them among Middle East residents free of charge," Hekmati's confession read.

The game designer's conviction has been seen by human rights' groups as a political gambit stemming from Iran's controversial nuclear program.

"I think the government itself understood that this very quick death sentence, the timing of it, was not good for them," National Iranian American Council president Trita Parsi told The Times. "They want to make sure they keep this going, so they can use him as a bargaining chip."

The Times' report also noted that Iran has a history of arresting US citizens, coercing confessions from them, handing out harsh sentences, and then freeing them after sizable bail payments. Such a scenario last played out in 2009, when a group of American hikers were arrested on the Iran-Iraq border.

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