Freed Iran hostages tell of 'mental torture'

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The Independent Online

A British couple held without charge for 13 days by Iranian authorities said today they were subjected to "mental torture".

Rupert and Linda Wise have now been released after being stopped and detained at gunpoint by the Iranian navy as they sailed towards the disputed island of Abu Musa from their home in Dubai.

Mr Wise said their ordeal began on October 28 when two gunboats came " roaring out" towards them and slammed into both sides of their boat as they headed for the island - a territory that is being claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

He said: "We had about 10 armed men on the boat, shouting at us and informing us that we had done some sort of crime.

"We were apprehended and tied to the quay and put under guard."

Mr Wise told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that they were treated well and not physically harmed.

Along with an Australian yachtsman, Paul Shulton, they were taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for questioning by five or six interrogation teams.

But they did not know why they had been seized, Mr Wise said. He said at first the Iranians might have thought they were spies, and then they thought the trio were investigating the ownership of the island. They were never charged.

Mr Wise said they were allowed to contact their children at home in Dubai but were repeatedly denied access to the Foreign Office and they were not allowed to say where they were.

"We were kept under lock and key, not allowed out, armed guards outside, guards inside, for the full period of our detention. We were hostages."

The British Embassy in Tehran successfully negotiated their release and agreed for the trio to be flown home on Monday.

But they were re-arrested at the airport by Iranian officials and taken to a secret location in Tehran.

Mr Wise said: "I think the worst moment was when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we could go last Monday. We had the ticket, we were at the airport, we were in the charge of the British embassy.

"And then the judiciary from Tehran intervened, took us off the British embassy, overruled the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and put us on a flight to Tehran.

"We landed in Tehran and were carted straight into a minivan with curtains round the windows... About four minutes out, we screamed to a halt, changed vehicles, presumably to throw off the British ambassador and team who were in the airport building waiting for us."

They were then taken to a five-star hotel where they were detained.

They were finally freed today and have arrived home in Dubai.

A Foreign Office spokesman said British embassy staff had worked tirelessly to secure the couple's release once they learnt of their detention at the beginning of the month.

He said: "It appears they had strayed into Iranian waters. They were able to ring their family and the family alerted us to the situation."

The spokesman said that during the couple's period of detention the embassy was in daily touch with the Iranian authorities.

"We spoke in strong terms to the authorities in Tehran and demanded their immediate release.

"We are delighted they are now back safe and well in Dubai," he said.

Iran recently attracted international condemnation after announcing fresh nuclear activity.

Earlier this month Tony Blair issued a warning to Iran to halt its nuclear programme and stop supporting terrorism.

Mr Blair said until Iran stops supporting terrorism in the Middle East there would be "deep dismay" about the Iranian regime around the world.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was also widely criticised last month when he suggested that Israel "should be wiped off the map".

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has ruled out a policy of regime change against Iran, saying he did not think it "would be wise".