Iran General NewsUK embassy official accused of fomenting mass protests in...

UK embassy official accused of fomenting mass protests in Tehran

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ImageThe Guardian: A detained British embassy employee in Tehran is to be put on trial as the supposed orchestrator of the mass protests that followed last month's bitterly disputed Iranian presidential election, despite Britain's insistence that the charges against him are false.

The Guardian

Robert Tait

ImageA detained British embassy employee in Tehran is to be put on trial as the supposed orchestrator of the mass protests that followed last month's bitterly disputed Iranian presidential election, despite Britain's insistence that the charges against him are false.

Hossein Rassam, 44, is accused of being the "kingpin" and key strategist behind a purported embassy attempt to foment street demonstrations after the 12 June poll, which resulted in the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, has dismissed as "wholly without foundation" the notion of British involvement in the protests that brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets for 10 days after the election.

The accusations against Rassam, the embassy's chief political analyst, are the most specific yet since his arrest on 27 June along with eight other employees, who have since been released.

He was already known to be facing accusations of "acting against national security", a vague catch-all charge often brought against political detainees. Rassam has been denied access to his lawyer, Abolsamad Khorramshahi, who said that he had not even received official rights of attorney over the case yet.

The latest allegations against Rassam, who is being held in Tehran's Evin prison, were leaked to Iran's tightly controlled state media. Fars News – a website linked to the revolutionary guards – reported he had undergone two interrogation sessions and given confessions that will "cast light on many hidden angles of the interference of Britain in Iran's internal affairs in recent years".

Rassam is said to have "provoked people" by giving "strategic advice" to foreign journalists based in Iran, particularly the BBC. Fars also said he had personally attended a demonstration on 28 June, which prompted his arrest. In fact, the embassy employees are reported to have been arrested a day earlier.

Fars also alleged that Rassam, who has worked at the embassy since 2004, had fed "biased" reports to British diplomats that fanned their hostility to Iran's nuclear programme. "He has proved his strong anti-Iranian approaches by linking British ambassadors with elements from anti-government spectrums," it wrote.

The agency added that he had provided "internal intelligence" to Sir John Sawers when he served as political director of the foreign office. The MI6 head, is known to take a hard line on Iran's uranium enrichment programme, which the west suspects is aimed at making a nuclear bomb.

Khorramshahi expressed surprise at the allegations but acknowledged that he had not been given access to his client. He said the authorities had not told him of the charges because the investigation was "confidential". "I think the preliminary investigation may be completed by next week and after that I may get permission to meet him," he added.

Miliband has repeatedly denied that the embassy staff engaged in "any improper or illegal behaviour". Privately, British officials have described the accusations against Rassam – who friends have described as an Iranian patriot – as "absolute nonsense".

The Fars report was carried yesterday by two other influential pro-government outlets, Vatan-e Emrooz, and Jahan News, a website linked to the intelligence ministry, suggesting a concerted effort to back up official claims of British involvement in the post-election protests.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was the first to accuse Britain of inciting the unrest amid claims from the main reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, that victory was "stolen" from him by fraud.

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