Iran has executed a British-Iranian national who once served as its deputy defence minister, its judiciary said on Saturday, defying calls from London for his release after he was handed the death sentence on charges of spying for Britain.

Britain, which had declared the case against Alireza Akbari, 61, as politically motivated and called for his release, condemned the execution.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called it “a callous and cowardly act carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people”.

The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency reported the execution early on Saturday, without saying when it had taken place. Late on Friday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had said Iran must not follow through with the sentence – a call echoed by Washington.

The execution looks set to pile more pressure on Iran’s long strained ties with the West which have deteriorated further since talks to revive its 2015 nuclear deal hit deadlock and as Tehran unleashed a deadly crackdown on protesters last year.

In an audio recording purportedly from Akbari and broadcast by BBC Persian on Wednesday, he said he had confessed to crimes he had not committed after extensive torture.

“Alireza Akbari, who was sentenced to death on charges of corruption on earth and extensive action against the country’s internal and external security through espionage for the British government’s intelligence service … was executed,” Mizan said.The Mizan report accused Akbari, arrested in 2019, of receiving payments of 1,805,000 euros, 265,000 pounds, and $50,000 for spying.

Sunak said on Twitter he was “appalled by the execution”. Cleverly said in a statement it would “not stand unchallenged”. “We will be summoning the Iranian Charge d’Affaires to make clear our disgust at Iran’s actions.”

British statements on the case have not addressed the Iranian charge that Akbari – who was arrested in 2019 – spied for Britain.

Iranian state media broadcast a video on Thursday that they said showed that Akbari played a role in the 2020 assassination of Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, killed in a 2020 attack outside Tehran which authorities blamed at the time on Israel.

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