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.
Iranian authorities detained Rob Macaire on Saturday on suspicion of organising, provoking and directing radical actions, but an Iranian news agency later said he had been summoned over his attendance at an “anti-government rally”.
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.
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 UK ambassador said he visited the scene to take part in a vigil for the 176 victims who died when Iran brought down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 on Wednesday with a missile it said was fired in error.
Rob Macaire tweeted in Farsi and in English: “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.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the incident a flagrant violation of international law, insisting that Rob 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.
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 participation in the rally – whatever his true motive – prompted an angry reaction from the Basij militia. The militia which subordinate to the iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – staged a rally outside the UK embassy and, according to local media, demanded its closure.