Judiciary spokesman Gholam-Hossain Mohseni-Ejai told reporters Monday, “There was an objection to the ruling in the Supreme Court and the court found fault with it and sent it to another branch with the same level of authority.”
That appeared to mean Hekmati would be retried, but Ejai’s meaning was not clarified.
The Supreme Court is required to review all death sentences.
The Islamic Republic has a habit of sentencing American citizens to harsh punishments with the appeals process reducing the punishment or even annulling the conviction. So this decision did not come as a surprise. But if it means a new trial, there is no telling how long Hekmati will be kept in jail in Iran.
Hekmati was arrested last year and shown confessing to espionage in a video broadcast on state television. But the video was strange and inconsistent.
In the televised confession, Hekmati, 28, said he served in US military intelligence and then was recruited by the CIA and dispatched to Iran as an agent to infiltrate Iranian intelligence.
His father, Ali Hekmati, who teaches biology at Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan, said his son was in the Marines, where he served as an Arabic translator for troops in Iraq. The father said his son was never in US intelligence. “He is not a spy. It’s a whole bunch of lies,” he said last year.
In the telecast confession, Hekmati gives laughable descriptions of his activities as a spy and outlines non-existent US policies that just happen to correspond to the official line of Iranian state propaganda.
For example, Hekmati says United States plotted to “bankrupt” the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by taking control of Iraq’s oil wells. He also said Washington was seeking to force oil to be traded in US dollars so that US power would exceed that of Russia and China.
The elder Hekmati said his son went to Tehran in September to visit his grandmothers there. The father said all went well for the first two weeks. Then he was suddenly arrested and the family heard nothing for three months until his confession was televised.
The televised confession had some major problems. Much of the information was conveyed by announcers and by a voice purporting to translate Hekmati’s comments from English.
There are other problems. At one point, the announcer says Iran has agents inside the US Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where Hekmati was based and thus knew what was going on even before Hekmati flew to Tehran. But at the end of the program, the announcer says that skilled Iranian intelligence analysts in Tehran who interviewed Hekmati when he came to Iran pretending to want to spy for Iran uncovered his deception and exposed him.
The announcer also tells the audience in Farsi that Hekmati joined the US military as an intelligence person from the very beginning. But the video immediately carries a statement in English from Hekmati saying he joined the Marine Corps as an infantryman.
Hekmati says that when the Marines learned he knew some Arabic they wanted to send him off to college to perfect his language skill. The announcer then says, “Hekmati was now turned into an intelligence analyst.” But Hekmati’s father says he was given Arabic language training and sent off to Iraq to serve as a translator for Marine units.
The television broadcast said Hekmati was hired to pose as a double agent. It said he was sent to Tehran to give information—some true and some false—to the Iranian Intelligence Ministry in hopes that he would then be hired to spy on the United States and would be able to “mislead the Iranian intelligence service.”
Hekmati was born in Arizona. The family later moved to Michigan where he graduated from Central High School in Flint and joined the Marines after graduation.
Over the years, the Islamic Republic has arrested several Iranian-Americans and accused them of being spies. A few, like Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-Japanese-American, were actually tried and convicted. Most were never tried. All were eventually released.