Iran summons UK ambassador over his participation in ‘illegal rally’ following his arrest at anti-govt protest

The UK envoy’s detention during an anti-government rally in Tehran has sparked a diplomatic scandal. The envoy, summoned on Sunday by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, says he was at a “vigil” for victims of the Ukrainian plane crash.

“Today, Rob Macaire was summoned because of his unconventional behavior of attending an illegal rally on Saturday,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It also demanded that the British government provide clarification on the matter.

The diplomat was briefly detained late on Saturday outside of Amirkabir University in Tehran, as part of a group of people attending a chaotic vigil – held for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crash – which turned into an anti-government rally. According to Iranian state media, the official was seeking “to organize, instigate and direct some radical and destructive actions.”

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Protesters rally in front of the Amirkabir University in Tehran, on January 11, 2020.
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While many people brought candles and flowers to the event, seeking to mourn the dead, some showed up with anti-government banners and began chanting slogans, demanding “prosecutions and constitutional changes.” The event escalated into clashes between the police and protesters, who were ultimately dispersed.

The ambassador, however, maintains that he was only seeking to attend the vigil. The Ukrainian plane was accidentally downed by Iranian air defenses on Wednesday after the passenger jet was mistaken for an incoming cruise missile.

“Thanks for the many goodwill messages. Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy,” the diplomat tweeted earlier on Sunday, insisting that he was detained half an hour after he left the event.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the incident a “flagrant violation of international law,” insisting that Macaire was detained without any “grounds or explanation.” Commenting on the issue, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell called for “de-escalation and space for diplomacy”.

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The Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the British ambassador was arrested “because of his participation in an illegal gathering,” but he was released “due to his diplomatic immunity and after confirming his identity”. The country´s Deputy FM Seyed Abbas Araghchi explained in a tweet that he was deeply surprised the arrested man turned to be the UK ambassador.

Meanwhile, Macaire’s participation in the rally – whatever his true motive – prompted an angry reaction from the Basij militia. The militia – which is subordinate to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – staged a rally outside the UK embassy and, according to local media, demanded its closure.

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