UK

Iran: Foreign Office Questions Spate Of Executions And Arrests Amid Rising Tensions

20/01/2012 17:34 GMT | Updated 20/01/2012 17:40 GMT

The British government has denounced the spate of recent executions and arrests in Iran, including the detention of a number of journalists over the past month, amid rising tensions between Tehran and London.

Foreign Office spokesman Alistair Burt said the journalists' arrests raised "serious questions about Iran's stated commitment to freedom of expression", adding that he was "disturbed" at the death penalties handed down to website developer Saeed Malekpour, blogger Vahid Asghari and website administrator Ahmad Reza Hashempour.

On Friday, the Iranian news network Press TV had its licence to broadcast in the United Kingdom revoked by communications watchdog Ofcom. The London-based channel, whose presenters include former MP George Galloway and Tony Blair's sister-in-law Lauren Booth, will go off the air on Friday.

In a Foreign Office statement, Burt called for an urgent review of all the execution and detention cases. "I am deeply concerned by a new wave of executions and arrests in Iran,” said Burt.

"There are reports that Iran has already executed around 50 people this year, some of them in grotesque public displays. This continues a shocking trend of excessive use of the death penalty that has been condemned by the United Nations.

"There has been a wave of arrests and persecution of researchers and journalists.

"Journalists Saeed Madani, Parastoo Dokouhaki, Marizeh Rassouli, Mohammad Soleymaninia, Sahameddin Bourghani, Fatemeh Kheradmand, Arash Sadeghi, Ehsan Houshmand and Hassan Fathi have all been detained in the last month.

"This raises further, serious questions about Iran's stated commitment to freedom of expression."

Burt added: "I was also disturbed to see reports of a lack of due process in the harsh sentencing to death of three Iranians, Saeed Malekpour, Ahmadreza Hashempour and Vahid Asghari on charges of 'spreading corruption on earth'.

"Civil society organisations have raised serious concerns over the fairness, transparency and the speed of the court proceedings. Such actions are contrary to Iran's international human rights obligations and raise further questions about the inadequate judicial standards.

"I call on Iran to review all these cases urgently," he said.

Already tense diplomatic relations between the two countries broke down in November after Iran voted to downgrade the UK’s diplomatic status and expel the British Ambassador.

The move followed the imposition of fresh sanctions on Iranian banks by George Osborne, following the publication of the International Atomic Energy report that highlighted Iran’s continued ambition to create nuclear weaponry.

Following strident anti-British rhetoric in the Iranian parliament, the British embassy in Tehran was stormed by dozens of Iranian students chanting "death to England".

The group tore down the Union Flag and threw documents from the windows.

In recent weeks, relations have worsened, with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warning Tehran that any move to close the Straits of Hormuz could lead to military action by the Royal Navy.