Jan. 9, 2012 — -- Iran has sentenced a former U.S. Marine to death on charges of spying for the CIA, Iranian state media reported Monday.
Iran's Revolutionary Court found 28-year-old Amir Hekmati "Corrupt on Earth," said the Fars news agency, and sentenced him to death "for cooperating with the hostile country . . . and spying for the CIA." Under Iranian law, Hekmati has 20 days to appeal. His trial and death sentence came as Iran announced that it had enriched uranium at an underground facility and as the U.S. imposed harsher economic sanctions on Iran to stop its nuclear program.
Hekmati's mother Behnaz Hekmati released a statement saying that she and her husband Ali were "shocked and terrified by the news that our son, Amir, has been sentenced to death. We believe that this verdict is a result of a process that was neither transparent nor fair."
"Amir did not engage in any acts of spying, or 'fighting against God,' as the convicting judge has claimed in his sentence," said the statement. "Amir is not a criminal. His life is being exploited for political gain."
The U.S. State Department has asked the Iranian government repeatedly to allow Swiss diplomats, who represent U.S. interests in Iran, to meet with Hekmati. Iran has refused, according to the State Department.
If reports of the verdict are true, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, "we strongly condemn this verdict."
"Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue. 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," she said.
Hekmati's family also said they had been rebuffed in all attempts to speak with the Iranian government.
"A grave error has been committed," said Hekmati's parents Monday. "We pray that Iran will show compassion and not murder our son, Amir, a natural born American citizen, who was visiting Iran and his relatives for the first time."
Hekmati, an Arizona-born Iranian-American who served the U.S. Marines as a rifleman from 2001 to 2005, was arrested while visiting his extended family, including two elderly grandmothers, in Tehran on Aug. 29, 2011, according to the family. The family said they were urged by the Iranian government to keep quiet about his arrest with the promise of later release, but then in December, Hekmati was shown on Iranian television allegedly confessing to being an undercover agent of the Central Intelligence Agency on a mission to infiltrate the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.
"It was their [the CIA's] plan to first burn some useful information, give it to them [the Iranians] and let Iran's Intelligence Ministry think that this is good material," Hekmati says calmly in the video.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News shortly after the broadcast, Hekmati's father strongly denied his son was a spy and said the confession was forced.
"My son is no spy. He is innocent. He's a good fellow, a good citizen, a good man," Hekmati said. "These are all unfounded allegations and a bunch of lies."
Family: 'We Will Not Stop Hoping and Praying for Justice'
In the Iranian broadcast, Hekmati was described as having been trained in military intelligence for 10 years by the U.S. Army before being sent in country on his secret mission to become a double agent for the CIA. But military service records provided to ABC News showed Hekmati is an ex-Marine, was never in the Army and never had any military intelligence training. He spoke Arabic and may have helped translate for his Marine unit, but left service in 2005 as a rifleman.
The elder Hekmati said his son worked for a security contractor after his Marine service, but insisted he never had intelligence training there either. The Associated Press reported in December Hekmati briefly worked for the major security contractor BAE Systems before going to work for another contractor in Qatar before his arrest.
"We've seen this story before with the Iranian regime falsely accusing people of being spies and then holding the innocent foreigners for political reasons," State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said in December. In September, the Iranian government released the last two of three American hikers detained there for two years on accusations of espionage.
Hekmati's mother, father, two sisters and brother all live in the U.S.
"Every waking moment, our family is agonizing over Amir's fate," the family's statement says. "We continue to hope, struggling to reach out to Iran and abroad for Amir's freedom... to the ones who have hearts, and the ones who can hear. We will not stop hoping and praying for justice, for peaceful dialogue with Iran, and for Amir's safe return home."
A representative at the Iranian Interest Section in Washington, D.C., declined to comment for this report and referred ABC News to his colleagues in New York. Representatives at the Iranian mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately return requests for comment.
Hekmati's family has set up a website in Amir's name, called FreeAmir.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.