Iran's Supreme Court has reportedly overturned the death penalty conviction of the U.S.-born game designer accused of spying on the country and working with the C.I.A. to create propaganda games.
Iranian-American Amir Mizra Hekmati was detained while visiting the country last August, and sentenced to death
in January after he allegedly confessed to developing anti-Iranian titles at Kuma Reality Games under the C.I.A.'s payroll and direction.
After trying Hekmati, the Islamic Revolutionary Court in Iran, which specializes in trying those accused of blaspheming or attempting to overthrow the country's government, found him "Corrupt on Earth and Mohareb (waging war on God)." He was the first American sentenced to death by Iran since 1979.
The Supreme Court of Iran, however, has now tossed out the conviction and called for a retrial in a separate court. Judges found "shortcomings" in the case against Hekmati, according to a Fars News agency report published by
the New York Times.
"To the extent that I am aware, the Supreme Court has objected to Hekmati's sentence," said Iran's prosecutor-general Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei. "It has overturned the conviction and sent it to an equivalent court for retrial."
A former U.S. Marine, Mizra worked at Kuma Reality Games, maker of the KumaWar
first-person shooter series. Kuma/War
featured episodes in which players killed militant Islamist figures, and led a U.S. assault on Iran to find evidence of and hamper its nuclear weapons program.
The New York City-based developer has previously accepted
contract work from the U.S. government to develop training software for military applications, including "Second Language Training,"
a language retention training program commissioned by the Department of Defense.
Hekmati admitted in a purported confession
published by local newspaper The Tehran Times last January, "[Kuma] was receiving money from the CIA to (produce) and design and distribute for free special movies and games with the aim of manipulating public opinion in the Middle East.
"The goal of the company in question was to convince the people of Iran and the people of the entire world that whatever the U.S. does in other countries is a good measure." Kuma Reality Games has not commented on the allegations.
Hekmati also made a confession on Iranian state television last December, claiming that he was sent to the country by the CIA to infiltrate its intelligence ministry by gaining their trust, then reporting his findings on the department to the U.S.'s own intelligence agency.
The White House has denied that Hekmati was spying for the U.S., and has called for his immediate release. Hekmati's family claims that the game designer was in Iran to visit his grandmother.
This isn't the first time Iran has detained Americans and convicted them of espionage. In 2009, it arrested three hikers near the Iranian border, and sentenced two of them to prison for spying and illegal entry. It did the same with an Iranian-American journalist that year, too. All were eventually released after serving a fraction of their prison terms.