Iran to Try U.K. Embassy Staff Accused of Incitement (Update1)

Jul 3rd, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Iran to Try U.K. Embassy Staff Accused of Incitement (Update1)

By Ali Sheikholeslami

July 3 (Bloomberg) — Some Iranian employees of the U.K. Embassy in Tehran will be put on trial over allegations they helped instigate post-election unrest, a senior cleric told worshippers in the capital during Friday prayers.

“The people from the British Embassy who were behind the recent riots were arrested and they will definitely be tried,” said the head of the Guardian Council, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, according to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency. The council supervises the country’s elections.

“We are confident that our staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behavior,” U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today. “We are urgently seeking clarification,” Miliband added, saying he intended to speak to his Iranian counterpart. The European Union said it will summon Iranian ambassadors to protest the treatment of the British staff.

Iran insists the staff members were part of an embassy effort to foment demonstrations over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed June 12 re-election. As many as nine employees were detained, and several later released. Miliband said two staff members remain in detention. The U.K. Foreign Office said the arrests may have happened before June 27.

“We are aware of these reports and we are concerned,” Michael Ellam, a spokesman for U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said today of Jannati’s announcement that the embassy workers will be tried. “We are seeking clarification as a matter of urgency.”

International Condemnation

International condemnation of Iran over the election and the treatment of protesters may complicate any future talks over the country’s nuclear program. The Iranian leadership accuses the U.S. and the U.K. of instigating the violence that followed protests by Ahmadinejad’s opponents, who allege massive ballot- rigging. His main challenger, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, has demanded the election result be scrapped.

The Iranian intelligence minister said that the U.K. Embassy had sent its local staff to rallies and had encouraged protesters, state-run Press TV reported.

EU governments joined the U.K. in condemning the arrests.

“I can confirm that the EU member states have today decided to summon all Iranian ambassadors to protest the treatment of the British Embassy staff,” Swedish Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin said by phone. “The Iranian representative to Sweden has already met with State Secretary Frank Belfrage,” she said. Sweden took on the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc two days ago.

Protesters Killed

Iranian authorities have succeeded in largely quelling the protests after using force to keep people off the streets and arresting hundreds of activists. As many as 20 people have died in protests, according to state-run media.

The EU is considering sanctions against supporters of the Iranian government who are linked to violence against demonstrators, the harassment of diplomats and possible election fraud, the Financial Times Deutschland reported today, citing unidentified EU diplomats.

Iran expelled two U.K. diplomats on June 22, prompting the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats from London. Iran also ordered out the British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent from Tehran after accusations that the U.K. was interfering in Iran’s internal affairs.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said June 29 that cutting diplomatic ties with any country is not on the agenda.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on June 19 called Britain the “most treacherous” Western nation.

Iran has defied United Nations sanctions over its nuclear program, which the U.S. and many of its allies allege is cover for weapons development. Iran says the program is intended only for generating electricity.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ali Sheikholeslami in London at alis2@bloomberg.net.

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