Jon Swain – Times Online August 9, 2009
Britain's fraught relations with Iran suffered a further setback yesterday when a local member of its embassy staff on trial in Tehran “confessed” to espionage. He said Britain had provided financial assistance to Iran’s reformists to undermine the hardline clerical regime during June’s disputed presidential elections.
Hossein Rassam, a political analyst with the embassy, said a budget of £300,000 had been allocated by the embassy to establish contacts with political groups, individuals and activists.
He said he had personally made contact before the election with the campaign headquarters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform candidate who claims he was robbed of victory by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“My main responsibility was to gather information from Tehran and other cities by setting up contacts with individuals and other influential parties and political groups and send reports to London,” he said.
He said because of Britain’s hostile policies towards Iran and fear of exposure, the embassy employed local staff to establish such contacts.
Rassam was paraded in Tehran’s Revolutionary Square in a mass show trial along with dozens of opposition figures accused of crimes, including rioting, spying and plotting a “soft overthrow” of the regime after the elections. Apologising for his “mistakes”, he appealed for clemency. The charge of espionage carries the death sentence in Iran.
His appearance seemed to catch the Foreign Office unawares. The first the embassy knew about it was when diplomats spotted him in television coverage of the trial. The Foreign Office said his trial was an “outrage” and directly in contravention of assurances it had received from the Iranian authorities after they had released him and eight other local staff arrested during the postelection violence.
Rassam was paraded together with Clotilde Reiss, a Frenchwoman, who was arrested on July 1 as she prepared to leave Tehran after five months as a university teaching assistant. She was accused of collecting information and provoking rioters. France said the allegations against her were “absolutely baseless”.
The trial of Rassam and Reiss demonstrated the clerical regime’s determination to paint the opposition as tools of the West, particularly Britain and America, trying to spark a revolution to overthrow Iran’s Islamic system.
Human rights groups and opponents of the regime criticised it as a sham and said the confessions were scripted by the authorities and extracted through pressure.
Last updated 11/08/2009