Iran daily: British embassy staff had key unrest role

TEHRAN Mon Jul 13, 2009 5:40am EDT

TEHRAN (Reuters) - An Iranian government newspaper said Monday a detained local employee of the British embassy played a key role in post-election unrest last month and his arrest shed new light on Britain's "subversive activities."

The Iran daily, seen as close to hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, named the employee as Hossein Rassam and said he was in charge of the political and security section at the British embassy in Tehran.

Iran announced in late June the detentions of nine Iranian embassy staff and accused them of involvement in opposition protests. Eight have since been released.

Britain has denied Iranian accusations that embassy staff were involved in instigating mass demonstrations over the June 12 election, which opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousavi says was rigged in favor of Ahmadinejad, who rejects the charge.

Also Monday, the reformist Etemad-e Melli newspaper, close to another defeated reformist candidate, said Iranian photographers Majid Saeedi and Tohid Beygi and three pro-reform students had been detained. Saeedi works for Getty Images.

It did not give details about the detentions, the latest in many such arrests of reformist activists, journalists and others since the presidential election.

The Iran newspaper said Rassam's attendance at a rally had revealed his activities. It said that as "one of the key members involved in the Tehran unrest his arrest revealed new dimensions of the British government's subversive activities in Iran."

The daily added: "In this unrest this person ... was the main figure who was leading ambassadors and British diplomats in Iran." It also said Rassam "provoked the nation" through his connection with Western journalists, especially from the BBC.

Iran has accused Britain and the United States, which have criticized a crackdown on opposition protests, of interfering in its internal affairs. London and Washington reject the charge.

Britain and Iran have already expelled two of each other's diplomats since the election, which stirred Iran's most striking display of internal dissent since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The European Union has pledged a strong, collective response to any Iranian harassment of staff at European embassies.

Rights activists have said 2,000 people detained during the vote's turbulent aftermath may still be held across Iran, including leading reformers, academics and journalists. Police last week said two thirds of those held in Tehran had been freed.

The Etemad-e Melli newspaper said relatives of detained leading reformists, including former vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi and former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, urged top clerics to help get them released.

"Unfortunately their situation has not improved and they are under heightened pressure to accept unfair charges," the daily quoted a letter from the relatives as saying.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; writing by Fredrik Dahl; editing by Dominic Evans)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.