Sun, Jul 05, 2009 - Page 6 News List

British embassy official formally charged

‘DEEPLY CONCERNED’: A senior Iranian cleric said that other staff at the embassy had ‘confessed’ to playing a role in a movement targeting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON AND BRUSSELS

A British embassy employee is to stand trial in Tehran for “acting against national security” — a dramatic escalation in Iran’s campaign to blame Britain for protests against disputed election results.

The man, a 44-year-old Iranian who is the British embassy’s chief political analyst, was arrested yesterday and formally charged at Tehran’s Evin Prison, his lawyer, Abdolsamad Khorramshahi, said.

“Apparently he will be put on trial. We have prepared and submitted the defense documents and I have to see the judge next week,” he said.

It was not clear on Friday whether any other embassy staff would face prosecution. A senior cleric claimed on Friday that some had “confessed” to playing a role in the protest movement. The staging of political trials is likely to lead to a breach in relations not only with the UK, but also with the EU. Iranian ambassadors were summoned to foreign ministries in capitals across Europe in a coordinated rebuke on Friday.

The analyst was one of two Iranian staff of the British embassy still being held for allegedly playing a role in the protests that followed the official victory in last month’s presidential elections of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. Seven other staff members have been released from detention in recent days but warned they could face further legal proceedings.

Earlier in the day Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of a highly influential body of clerics, the Guardian Council, claimed that some embassy employees had “confessed” to playing a role in post-election demonstrations and would be prosecuted.

The cleric is close to Iran’s Supreme Leader but he is not in charge of the judiciary, so British officials insisted last night that trials were still not inevitable despite the fact charges had been laid.

“Acting against national security” is a vague charge often brought against political activists and is not known to carry any fixed sentence. The charge was leveled against three US-Iranian academics detained in 2007 while visiting Iran. All three were subsequently released.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: “We are confident that our staff have not engaged in any improper or illegal behavior.”

Miliband said Britain was “deeply concerned” about the fate of the two embassy staff.

However, their plight presents British officials with a dilemma. If they provide too much overt help it will strengthen Tehran’s depiction of them as “foreign agents.”

Britain withdrew a request for European states to pull ambassadors from Tehran after the Iranian government released some embassy staff on Wednesday, but London is likely to look for stronger action if the trials proceed. European officials at meetings at Stockholm and Brussels on Friday said the option of withdrawing ambassadors remained on the table.

The Europeans also discussed the possible penalty of blacklisting regime officials.

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