Although it may not appear obvious, protest is allowed under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, as long as people are not armed. Despite this, the country’s deputy foreign minister has insisted that people going out on the streets to voice grief over the victims of the Ukrainian airplane tragedy were taking part in an “illegal gathering.”
Posting on Twitter, Abbas Araghchi not only described the demonstrations as unlawful, he also denied that the British ambassador Rob Macaire had been detained.
However, the same tweet, which was written in English, Araghchi said that Macaire had been “arrested as an anonymous foreigner taking part in an illegal rally” — meaning that authorities did not claim he was behaving in a way that was disallowed under the rules of his ambassadorship, but that they simply did not know who he was when they detained him.“When police informed me a man's arrested who claims to be UK Amb, I said IMPOSSIBLE!” the tweet continued. “Only after my phone conversation w him I identified, out of big surprise, that it's him. 15 min later he was free.”
The morning after the incident, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Rob Macaire, who was arrested by police on the night of Saturday, January 11 after attending a vigil for the victims of the passenger plane crash on January 6, which was shot down by the Revolutionary Guards. All 176 people on board were killed. The British foreign office said in a statement that his detention lasted three hours.
Tasnim News Agency, which operates as the Guards’ media outlet, reported that "the British ambassador was acting illegally and diplomatically against state security, and was detained and delivered to the foreign ministry; he was released by the foreign ministry." Tasnim published a video it said showed the British ambassador at the illegal protests. The detention of the British ambassador in Tehran by security forces violates the Islamic Republic’s obligations under international law.
Last week, public gatherings took place in Tehran, Kerman and other Iranian cities to mourn the death of Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the Guards’ Quds Force, who was assassinated by a US airstrike, and yet government officials did not refer to them as "illegal gatherings” — they supported them.
Four British-Iranian dual nationals were among those who died when the Guards shot down the plane. The British ambassador had attended a public memorial for the victims, a move that was in line with the ambassador’s diplomatic mission, and even part of his obligations. It certainly did not undermine any international regulations or guidelines applied to ambassadors.
In the end, Abbas Araghchi told four lies: One, that the rally was “illegal;” two, that the arrest of an ambassador with absolute political immunity was not in violation of Iran's international obligations; thirdly, that the ambassador's presence at a memorial service for the victims of a plane crash was incompatible with his diplomatic mission; and lastly, that Rob Macaire was arrested after leaving the memorial. In fact, all four lies amount to an act of illegality on Iran’s behalf, a move that went against laws governing how authorities should deal with foreign officials and diplomats.
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