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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Arrests Top British Official and Other European Diplomats for Alleged Spying

The flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran flies outside its embassy in London, February 2014. (AP Photo/ Alastair Grant/ File)
The flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran flies outside its embassy in London, February 2014. (AP Photo/ Alastair Grant/ File)

In Tehran, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) detained the British government’s second-most senior envoy and other prominent European foreign officials for allegedly spying and taking what they describe as illegal soil samples in restricted areas, according to state media. 

“These spies were taking earth samples in Iran’s central desert where the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace missile exercises were conducted,” state TV said. 

While the report did not describe in detail when the officials faced arrest or whether they faced detention, the British government categorized such reports as false.

Iranian state TV displayed photographs of Giles Whitaker and his family taking ground samples in a desolate area where the Guards recently conducted a missile test. The televised report explained that the British official and his family were expelled from Tehran and allegedly apologized afterward to state authorities.

In response to such reports, the U.K. spokesperson to the United States, Samuel Health, took to social media to describe such news as false and stated that Whitaker is not posted in Iran anymore. Other European governments like Austria have not made statements on detained officials like the husband of Austria’s cultural attaché in Iran.

A third individual identified by state authorities, Maciej Walczak, a university professor in Poland, who allegedly engaged in collecting earth samples in another area after visiting the country on a scientific exchange program, has argued that he is visiting Iran as a tourist. Regime officials state that he engaged in anti-regime actions and that his actions coincided with a missile test in the southern Kerman province of Iran.

In recent weeks, the IRGC and its intelligence officials have arrested dozens of dual nations and American and European foreigners of Iranian descent on fabricated charges of espionage and other anti-regime activities. Reports from past arrests describe Iranian authorities confiscating all belongings from individuals, hoping to find something to incriminate them and justify their charges. Those arrested have faced hours of strict interrogation from the Ministry of Intelligence and transferred to brutal regime prisons like Evin, where they face harsh conditions and sometimes torture.

Many experts and officials familiar with the Islamic Republic’s activities believe the regime’s increased arrests are a way to obtain more economic concessions from the ongoing 2015 nuclear negotiations between Tehran and the West. The Iranian government has also held leading foreign officials to have leverage over the release of their operatives currently held by Western governments, in hopes of engaging in prisoner swaps with the U.S. and Europe.

Family members of prisoners in Iran and human rights groups have called on their governments to do everything in their power to secure the release of their loved ones from jail and enact harsh punishments against Tehran’s actions. While American and European officials engaged in talks with Iranian officials have demanded the release of political prisoners and citizens, officials have enacted little or no moves against the regime, hoping to revive the nuclear negotiations and not anger Iranian officials.

Additionally, the charges of espionage against detainees from IRGC officials come as the government faces increasing protests from ordinary citizens over the current political and economic conditions and the deaths of top IRGC officials. As protests in places like Khuzestan, Isfahan, and Tehran continue in Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other officials have blamed foreign governments for creating chaos inside the country. The deaths of top IRGC officials have generated fear and paranoia within the office of the IRGC and the Supreme Leader, resulting in the arrests of numerous government officials on the charges of spying for the Western governments and working with the Israeli government to destroy the regime from inside.

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