British embassy worker freed, but one still held

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The Independent Online

One of the last two British embassy workers being held in Iran has been released, it was confirmed today.



The Foreign Office confirmed the news today, having earlier received assurances that the person would be freed.

Nine staff were originally arrested after the disputed re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the street protests that followed.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has launched a vigorous defence of the other employee, believed to be the embassy's chief political analyst Hossein Rassam, who is said by his lawyer to face trial for "acting against national security".

Amid mounting diplomatic tensions, Mr Miliband yesterday accused the Iranian regime of pursuing a "grim and gruesome" clampdown against protesters angry at the re-election of Mr Ahmadinejad.

Tehran publicly accuses the UK of fomenting the unrest and a senior cleric said on Friday that some embassy staff, all Iranian, had "confessed" to playing a part and would face trial.

But Mr Miliband rejected the allegations.

"The allegations of improper conduct have absolutely no basis," he said, saying the individual was "an honourable, patriotic Iranian, who has been working in a completely open and transparent way for the UK".

He added: "I think it is very, very important that we send a clear message that we are confident about the way he has been doing his job, that we are clear about our goal, which is his release, unharmed and also that there is unity across the international community.

"It is very important that my anger, my cold anger about the way our staff have been treated, in this case Iranian citizens, doesn't turn into a rhetorical volley at the Iranian regime because that doesn't do anything either for our people or for reform in Iran.

"What's important is that I turn my anger into determination to see that justice is done by our people."

It had been expected that the eighth person would be released yesterday without charge.

Yesterday it was confirmed that a journalist with joint British and Greek nationality who had been held for more than two weeks has been released.

The freelance reporter, believed to be Iason Athanasiadis-Fowden and known as Jason Fowden, had been in the country for The Washington Times and was thought to be the only non-Iranian reporter being held.

EU member states summoned the Iranian ambassadors to their countries on Friday to deliver co-ordinated warnings that the treatment of the British embassy staff was unacceptable.

Britain wants still harder action, including the withdrawal of ambassadors to Iran in a bid to increase the pressure on the regime to act.

The latest developments will be discussed today by Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at an Anglo-French summit in Evian-les-Bains.

President Sarkozy has expressed "total" solidarity with Britain and urged stronger sanction against Iran "so that Iranian leaders will really understand that the path that they have chosen will be a dead end".

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