Iran General NewsUK urges Iran to lift sentence on official

UK urges Iran to lift sentence on official

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ImageReuters: The European Union and Britain urged Iran on Thursday to overturn a four-year jail term they say has been imposed on an Iranian employee of the British embassy in Tehran, who was put on trial for espionage. By Adrian Croft

ImageLONDON (Reuters) – The European Union and Britain urged Iran on Thursday to overturn a four-year jail term they say has been imposed on an Iranian employee of the British embassy in Tehran, who was put on trial for espionage.

Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, voiced deep concern at the sentence on Hossein Rassam, political counsellor at the British embassy, calling it "an attack on normal diplomatic activity."

"The EU considers the sentence unjustified and harsh, and urges the Iranian authorities to overturn it swiftly," it said in a statement.

It said it had told Iran's ambassador in Stockholm on Thursday that an action against one EU country was considered an action against the entire EU and would be treated accordingly.

Rassam was put on trial in August along with a Frenchwoman and dozens of moderates accused of inciting unrest after Iran's disputed presidential election in June.

His case has further soured relations between Britain and Iran, 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.

The Foreign Office has called in Iran's ambassador to London, Rasoul Movahedian, to protest over the sentence, which has not been announced publicly in Iran.

LAWYER HAS NOT RECEIVED VERDICT

In Iran, Rassam's lawyer was quoted as saying a verdict had been issued in the case, but said he had not yet received it.

"The court has issued a verdict … but I as a lawyer of Rassam have not received the verdict yet. Therefore I can't give any comment," Abdolsamad Khorramshahi said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in Brussels that he and Prime Minister Gordon Brown were deeply concerned by the sentence on Rassam.

"He was a hard-working embassy official doing work that was wholly within the appropriate boundaries of diplomatic work," he told a news conference during an EU summit.

"We look forward to the appeal that will be heard in Tehran and we hope very much indeed that the reports of a severe sentence do not turn out to be the final decision," he said.

Britain's Times newspaper said 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 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 (60,400 pound).

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.

(Additional reporting by Tim Castle in Brussels and Tehran bureau, Editing by Myra MacDonald)

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