French, British embassy staff on trial in Iran
London vows response to ‘latest outrage’
TEHRAN - A young French academic, Clotilde Reiss, and local employees of the British and French embassies appeared before an Iranian judge yesterday along with dozens of opposition figures accused of involvement in the country’s postelection unrest.
The extraordinary mass trial in Tehran’s Revolutionary Court demonstrates the government’s resolve to discredit Iran’s proreform movement as a tool of foreign countries - particularly Britain and the United States - trying to spark a revolution to topple Iran’s Islamic system.
The appearance of the British Embassy employee appeared to catch Britain off guard, and the Foreign Office in London promised a response to what it called “this latest outrage.’’
The defendants stand accused of crimes including rioting, spying, and plotting a “soft overthrow’’ of the regime after the disputed June 12 presidential election.
Iran’s opposition and the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets after the election denounced official results that declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner. The government has been eager to show that the outpouring was not the result of internal unrest, but foreign interference.
During the session, a prosecutor read out an indictment saying the United States and Britain had plans to foment the unrest with the aim of toppling Iran’s Islamic rulers through a “soft overthrow,’’ the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
The indictment also accused the two powers of providing financial assistance to Iran’s reformists to undermine hard-line clerics within the ruling system.
A reformist website said riot police attacked family members of the defendants and others gathered in front of the court to denounce the trial.
Yesterday’s hearing was the second in a trial that started a week ago, although it was a new group of defendants facing the judge. Human rights groups and Iran’s opposition have criticized the trial as a sham and said televised confessions from defendants were scripted by authorities and extracted through pressure.
During yesterday’s session, Hossein Rassam, a political analyst at the British Embassy arrested shortly after the start of the unrest, told the court that Britain was involved in fomenting the unrest, according to the IRNA news agency.
He said a budget of 300,000 pounds - or about $500,000 - had been allocated to establish contacts with Iranian political groups, influential individuals, and activists, IRNA reported.
The news agency quoted him as saying that he personally established contacts before the election with the campaign headquarters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the proreform candidate who says he was robbed of victory.
“My main responsibility was to gather information from Tehran and other cities by setting up contacts with individuals and influential parties and political groups and to send reports to London. . . . The British Embassy, due to its hostile policies in Iran and fear of exposure of its contacts inside Iran, employed local staff to establish such contacts. I established such contacts based on orders from embassy officials,’’ IRNA quoted Rassam as saying.
Rassam has been charged with espionage and “acting against national security,’’ IRNA reported.
In London, Britain’s Foreign Office called his appearance unacceptable and said it contradicted assurances it had been given by senior Iranian officials.
“We deplore these trials and the so-called confessions of prisoners who have been denied their basic human rights,’’ a Foreign Office statement said.
According to IRNA, Reiss told the court that she made a mistake by attending a demonstration.
“I had personal motives to join gatherings to see what was happening out of curiosity, but I admit that I made a mistake and should not have attended,’’ IRNA quoted her as saying.