The British Foreign Secretary has condemned the arrest of Britain’s ambassador in Iran during anti-government protests as a “flagrant violation of international law” and said the country was marching towards 'pariah status'.
Dominic Raab’s strongly worded statement came after UK ambassador Rob Macaire was arrested on Saturday during demonstrations near Amirkabir University in Tehran for 'inciting' the protesters. He was held for more than an hour on suspicion of organising, provoking and directing radical actions before he was released, the Iranian news agency said.
Raab said, "The arrest of our ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law."
"The Iranian government is at a crossroads moment. It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forward. It is understood that Macaire, a distinguished diplomat with 30 years’ experience, had been attending what had been billed as a vigil for the victims of the crash," he added.
However, the event quickly turned into a demonstration at which point the ambassador left. It was as he was returning to the British embassy that he was arrested, although it is not clear who he was held by.
Following a number of urgent calls to the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs said he was eventually released and allowed to return to the embassy.
The new diplomatic row came as Iran’s embattled regime was shaken by a wave of international condemnation and domestic criticism after admitting its forces shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane with 176 people onboard and it had lied in a bid to cover up its role in the tragedy.
Iran’s military released a statement about the plane via the official IRNA news agency in the early hours of Saturday admitting the 'unforgivable mistake' of shooting down Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday. The mea culpa came after three days of denials from officials in Tehran, who repeatedly dismissed western intelligence reports pointing to Iranian culpability as propaganda efforts in the midst of soaring tensions with the US.
In an unprecedented move, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered an investigation into the hitherto untouchable Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose base outside Tehran launched the missile that downed flight 752.
A senior IRGC commander, Gen Amir Ali Hajizadeh, confessed publicly that he knew the plane had been shot down almost immediately after it happened, and asked for forgiveness. His statement was broadcast on YouTube. Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division, apologised on television and said the group took full responsibility for the disaster, saying he wished he could die when he heard about the incident.