Iran accuses British official of instigating demonstrations

Country historically sees the hand of the 'Old Fox' behind every challenge to the government

Stephanie Al Qaq visited Iran at the invitation of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Britain's ambassador to Tehran. Photo: UK government
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Britain's ambassador to Tehran has dismissed allegations in a hardline newspaper that a senior London-based official instigated the demonstrations that have brought the country to a standstill this month.

Simon Shercliff, the envoy to Iran, said his colleague Stephanie Al Qaq, director general of the Middle East and North Africa section of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, had visited Iran at the invitation of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Javan newspaper reported that she had used her time in Iran to stir protests against its government. The newspaper report revived some of the most florid language used about the UK, which is often referred to as the Old Fox in Iran for its long role in the country's affairs.

Mr Shercliff disputed the accuracy of its headline: “English spy led the 'riots' from up close”.

“The MFA hosted during Ms Al Qaq’s short visit to Tehran last month,” he wrote on Twitter. “I don’t remember any part of those official talks being about instigating riots. They asked us not to say anything publicly about the visit, so we did not.”

Despite the UK's eagerness to keep the visit low key, the newspaper said the protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody had intensified across Iran.

“The hand of evil England was once again contaminated with the blood of Iranians,” it said. “She entered the country a few days before the start of the riots and closely monitored the process of managing the situation in Iran. Al Qaq has acted as a bridgehead and one of the main centres of communication with opposition movements inside the country and has played an effective role in guiding the recent disturbances.”

The Foreign Official has had deep involvement with Iranian diplomacy as the senior British representative in the Vienna negotiations over the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Throughout the summer Ms Al Qaq appeared positive about a return to the deal, from which the US withdrew in 2018.

Iran has a long history of blaming foreign embassies for stirring events within its borders.

“The presence of foreign spy services in the recent riots has now received specific names,” the Javan report continued. “According to the news provided by an informed source to Javan, during the recent disturbances in the country, some foreign and especially European embassies, centred on the German embassy, ​​played an effective role in directing and organising the riots in the country and also took measures to incite mobs.”

The report also quoted the Ministry of Intelligence, which runs Iran's espionage apparatus, as saying: “In the past few months, some western intelligence services and the Zionist regime had conducted 'subversion trainer training' courses for a number of related and pre-identified elements.”

Iran has hit out at the UK for the way protests outside its embassies in London have been handled. A second report in Javan said an “attack on the embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in London, the capital of England, makes it necessary to review the reasons and people behind the scenes of these events”.

It added: “Attacks on the embassies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as a place that is considered in international conventions as Iran's land and territory, and in the heart of the capitals of countries that claim freedom of expression and democracy [and] respect for the rules of international relations is not acceptable.”

Updated: October 13, 2022, 3:52 PM