Iran TV says several foreigners, a British diplomat, have been arrested on alleged espionage charges

The Iranian flag is pictured in front of the Iranian Foreign Ministry building in Tehran November 23, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

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DUBAI, July 6 (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have detained several foreigners, including Britain’s second-highest-ranking envoy in Tehran, for alleged espionage acts such as taking soil samples in restricted areas, state television reported on Wednesday.

No details were given as to when they were arrested or whether they were still in detention. Britain said the reports were “completely false”.

“These spies took soil samples in the central desert of Iran where the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace missile exercises were being conducted,” state television said.

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Iranian state television showed footage of Giles Whitaker and his family in central Iran, where the British diplomat was apparently taking soil samples. The TV said it was near an area where a missile test by the guards was taking place.

“Whitaker was expelled from town after apologizing (to the authorities),” the TV report said.

However, a UK Foreign Office spokesman said: “Reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran are completely false.” Continue reading

Samuel Heath, UK spokesman to the United States, tweeted: “He (Whitaker) is not even stationed in Iran anymore!”

One of those arrested was identified by state television as the husband of the Austrian cultural attaché in Iran. Austrian officials were not immediately available to comment on the matter.

The television also showed an image of a third foreigner identified as Maciej Walczak, a university professor in Poland, who was visiting Iran as a tourist.

The TV report featured footage allegedly showing Walczak and three colleagues collecting soil samples in another area after visiting Iran on a scientific exchange program. Their sampling also coincided with a missile test in Iran’s southern province of Kerman.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners in recent years, mostly on espionage and security-related charges.

Rights groups have accused the Islamic Republic of attempting to win concessions from other countries through arrests over possibly fabricated security charges. Tehran denies arresting people for political reasons.

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Text by Parisa Hafezi Edited by Sandra Maler

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