Britain protests four-year sentence for Tehran embassy worker

The reported four-year sentence handed down to an Iranian worker at the British embassy in Tehran is "an attack against the entire diplomatic community in Iran," according to British Foreign Minister David Miliband.


Reuters - Britain said on Thursday it was deeply concerned by reports that an Iranian employee at its embassy in Tehran had been sentenced to four years in jail after being put on trial for espionage.

Calling Hossein Rassam's reported sentencing "an attack against the entire diplomatic community in Iran", Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the Foreign Office had called in Iran's ambassador to London to protest.

The Foreign Office could not say which reports Miliband was referring to, and no immediate comment was available from Iranian officials.

Rassam, political counsellor at the British embassy in Tehran, was put on trial in August along with a Frenchwoman and dozens of moderates accused of inciting unrest after Iran's disputed June presidential election.

His trial further soured relations between Britain and Iran, already strained over Iran's nuclear programme which Britain and other Western countries suspect is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says the programme is only for power generation.

"Reports that Hossein Rassam has been sentenced to four years in prison are deeply concerning," Miliband said in a statement.

"Such a decision is wholly unjustified and represents further harassment of embassy staff for going about their normal and legitimate duties," said Miliband.

He said the British ambassador in Tehran had expressed Britain's concerns to Iran's deputy foreign minister and that a senior Foreign Office official had called in the Iranian ambassador in London, Rasoul Movahedian.

‘Harsh sentence’

"We understand the sentence can be appealed (against). I urge the authorities to conduct this quickly and overturn this harsh sentence," said Miliband.

"We are in close touch with EU and other international partners, who continue to show solidarity in the face of this unacceptable Iranian action.

"This will be seen as an attack against the entire diplomatic community in Iran and important principles are at stake."

Britain's Times newspaper said on Thursday Rassam, 44, was sentenced in a closed courtroom this week.

Rassam was among nine local British embassy staff detained for alleged involvement in the unrest that followed the disputed June election that gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term. Iran accused Western countries of fuelling the unrest.

All were later released, although Rassam's bail was set at nearly $100,000.

Britain is one of six world powers pressing Iran to curb uranium enrichment or face the prospect of tougher sanctions.

Iran has historically been suspicious of British activities in the region but relations have worsened in the past few years.

In March 2007, Iranian forces seized eight Royal Navy sailors and seven marines in the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, before freeing them 12 days later.

Soon after the June election, Britain expelled two Iranian diplomats after Iran forced two British diplomats to leave.

This month, Britain ordered financial firms to halt all business relations with Iran's Bank Mellat and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, citing fears they were involved in helping to develop nuclear weapons.

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