Father says he was visiting family.

Iran is reported to have sentenced a former United States marine to death for espionage and started enriching uranium at an underground site in an apparent show of defiance in the face of western sanctions. The White House denied that Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a 28-year-old Iranian-American born in Arizona, was a spy, and demanded his release. His family insisted that he had been visiting his grandparents when he was arrested last year.

Mr Hekmati, a dual U.S.-Iranian national who had served as a U.S. marine translator, was shown on Iranian television in December seemingly confessing to being a CIA agent sent to gain the trust of the Iranian government by pretending to offer U.S. state secrets. The death sentence against him was reported by the Iranian state news agency, IRNA.

The White House said it was seeking to independently verify the reports, adding that it would strongly condemn such a verdict if confirmed.

“Allegations that Mr Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA, are false,” said a spokesman, Tommy Vietor. “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.” Mr Hekmati was reported to have been arrested in August, but his family did not make it public then because it said it was advised by Iranian officials that it would worsen his situation.

He has been given 20 days to appeal against his sentence, but his family say it has been unable to hire an independent Iranian lawyer to argue his case. The White House has demanded Mr Hekmati be given access to legal counsel and to be released “without delay”. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2012

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