Iran questioned over British protester on espionage and alcohol trial

The Foreign Office said tonight it was urgently seeking information from Iran’s government after reports that a British national was among opposition supporters on trial for taking part in anti-government street protests last year.

A 24-year-old woman with dual British and Iranian nationality is one of 16 people being tried in Tehran over the most serious unrest since the disputed election in June returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, reports from Iran said.

At least eight people died when protesters and security forces clashed on 27 December. The Briton, not named by the court, was born in Manchester to a British mother who later converted to Islam, the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency said.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are urgently seeking clarification from the Iranian authorities.”

Five of the 16 opposition backers, whose trial resumed today , face the capital offence of moharebeh, or waging war against God, Reuters reported. A week ago, Iran executed the first two people convicted in connection with anti-government protests.

The British woman does not face the death penalty, says ISNA, but the charges include espionage, immoral relations with foreigners, drinking alcohol, and insulting high-ranking officials. She was arrested three weeks ago and is alleged to have sent 40 text messages encouraging people to go to the December protests, during the Shia Muslim festival of Ashura.

Some of the charges against the woman appear to relate to an incident last week in which two men, initially identified as German diplomats, suddenly left Iran.

According to reports in Germany, they were federal police who were flown home after one had an affair with an Iranian woman, identified separately as the Iranian-British national now on trial. The woman is accused of having gone to parties hosted by German diplomats, at which, she has reportedly acknowledged, “Islamic standards” were not observed. Separately, the woman’s lawyer, named as Mohammad Sadegh Sadeghi, told the court she admitted to drinking alcohol, but only some years ago, while in England.

Iran’s authorities are rushing through trials of opposition backers seemingly as a warning to dissidents not to stage protests on 11 February, when Iran marks the 31st anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Iran has repeatedly blamed Britain and other western nations for secret agitation within the opposition protest movement, which insists that last year’s election was rigged to favour Ahmadinejad. Shortly after the Ashura protests, Iran’s intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi, said several foreign nationals were arrested for “pursuing propaganda and psychological warfare”.

Among those tried in the first wave of judicial hearings after the anti-government protests was Hossein Rassam, chief political analyst at the UK embassy in Tehran. He was convicted of orchestrating the mass protests– which Britain vehemently rejects – and is on bail awaiting an appeal against his four-year jail term.

While most of the thousands of opposition supporters detained during the protests have been freed, more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years and five have been sentenced to death