Saturday, November 12, 2005

Britons, Australian Freed in Iran

Yahoo News:

By JESSICA SALLABANK, Associated Press Writer

Fri Nov 11,11:50 AM ET

A British couple and an Australian man held in Iran for 13 days after their sailboat apparently strayed into Iranian waters were released Friday, the Foreign Office said.

Rupert and Linda Wise and Paul Shulton were stopped by the Iranian navy Oct. 28 as they sailed from their home in Dubai toward the disputed island of Abu Musa, which is claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates, the office said.

The Iranian Embassy in London did not return a call seeking comment.

Rupert Wise told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that two Iranian gunboats had speeded toward the catamaran the three were sailing and it was quickly boarded. "We had about 10 armed men on the boat, shouting at us and informing us that we had done some sort of crime," he said. "We were apprehended and tied to the quay and put under guard."

He said the three were taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and questioned. He said they were treated well and were allowed to phone their families but could not contact British officials or say where they were.

Wise said he believed the Iranians might have believed at first that the three were spies, but they were never charged with any crime.

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

Wise said the British Embassy in Tehran had negotiated their release and arranged for them to be flown out of the country Monday, but Iranian officials canceled the departure at the last minute.

"We had the ticket, we were at the airport, we were in the charge of the British Embassy," he said. "And then the judiciary from Tehran intervened, took us (from) the British Embassy (staff), 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," he said.

They were then taken to a luxury hotel and held until Friday, when they were allowed to return home to Dubai, where they arrived safely, Wise and the Foreign Office said.

The British Foreign Office and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the three had apparently been detained because they strayed into Iranian waters.

Both governments said they had been in close contact with Iranian authorities during the detentions.

"It has been distressing for the Wises and for their family," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC. "I am very glad that they have been released safely and without any charge by the Iranians."

"It took a good deal of work behind the scenes to achieve this result and I am just relieved that we have got there," he said.

Ties between Britain and Iran have been increasingly rocky in recent months. Talks that Britain, France and Germany had been holding with Iran over its disputed nuclear program broke down in August.

A British official later accused Iran's Revolutionary Guard of giving Iraqi insurgents bomb-making technology for use against British troops in Iraq. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair last month condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's assertion that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

On Thursday, Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejehi said Tehran has proof of a British connection to suspects in bombings in southern Iran in recent months, an accusation Britain denied.


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