Iranian Public Mostly Supports Detention Of Britons
3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's extended Norouz (New Year) holidays and a
parliamentary recess have resulted in little public comments in Iran about the
March 23 detentions of 15 British naval personnel in the Persian Gulf, most
politicians and other groups have been supportive of the government's action as
the proper response to a perceived violation of Iran's territorial
The most violent
public response to the detention of the Britons took place on April 1 outside
the British Embassy in Tehran, when more than 100 student members of the Basij
militia -- a force affiliated with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps -- pelted
the compound with stones, bricks, and firecrackers, AFP reported.
protesters chanted slogans against Great Britain, Israel, and the United States,
while some placards even called for the Britons to be executed.
A man named Balukat, identified as the secretary of the
Union of Islamic Associations of Independent Students of State Universities,
told the gathering that the government must not retreat "a fraction" from its
positions, and he threatened a replay of the 1979 attack and kidnapping of
diplomatic personnel at the U.S. Embassy if Britain "continues this way," ISNA
"We have not
forgotten the forceful conduct [Britain] had with us [in the 1920s and 1930s],
and they still look at us in the same way."
Balukat added that "If
Britain continues to talk rubbish, we shall occupy this embassy." He expressed
regret, as did other demonstrators, at the continuing presence in Tehran of a
British Embassy as "the representative of arrogance," a term used in Iran to
denote the great powers.
The Union of Islamic Associations, which
reportedly organized the demonstration, issued a statement on April 1 asking for
the closure of the "house of spies," or Britain's Embassy. It also accused Great
Britain of a litany of crimes, including backing banditry and separatism in some
areas of Iran, and "historical interferences and treacheries," ISNA reported.
This was a reference to Britain's influential role in Iranian politics from the
mid-19th to the mid-20th century, when it was the dominant imperial power in the
The next day, a statement was issued by 266 student Basij
groups from universities around the country, saying that the closing of the "den
of corruption of the old devil, Britain" -- a place it alleged is merely
pretending to be an embassy -- "is the least of the serious demands" of the
third generation of postrevolutionary Iranians, ISNA reported.
Standing Up To
Such statements set the
general tone of comments made in recent days by Iranian officialdom,
politicians, and "the public." There have been numerous references to Britain as
a colonial or imperialist power, in an enthusiastic revival of the vocabulary of
zealous revolutionaries and militants of the 1970s and 1980s.
emerging picture has been of Great Britain on the one side -- the aging colonial
power that persists with its overbearing, imperialist ways in spite of declining
capabilities -- and Iran on the other side: the victim of imperialism that
relies on international laws and its righteous convictions.
Organization of the Medical Society, a grouping of physicians who are members of
the Basij militia, issued a statement on April 1 denouncing the "diabolical
presence" of the "arrogant government of America and its British minion" in the
Middle East, IRNA reported.
It observed that Britain is still dreaming of
ruling the world as it did in the 19th century. In the statement, "doctors and
paramedics, and [Iran's] martial nation" urged the government to cut ties with
Britain and prosecute the servicemen "on the basis of international laws, so
that all arrogant powers know" that Iran disallows violations of its territory.
Politicians have spoken with
a little more moderation of the "legal" aspects of the dispute. Mariam Behruzi,
the secretary of the Zeinab Society, a conservative political group, said in
Tehran on March 31 that Iran must give a legal and "correct" response to
Britain's "forceful" ways," ISNA reported. "We have not forgotten the forceful
conduct they had with us [in the 1920s and 1930s], and they still look at us in
the same way," she said.
Behruzi said the British personnel have
admitted to violating Iran's maritime borders, so an appropriate response from
Iran would ensure "tension is removed from the region and Iran." She said the
one woman being held should be released "out of respect for being a woman." Her
release, Behruzi said, would show the "special position" of women in
Elham Aminzadeh, a parliamentarian from Tehran and member of the
parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, discussed with Fars
news agency on April 2 the legal aspects of the alleged violation of Iranian
Aminzadeh said the 1975 Algiers agreement between Iran and
Iraq had delineated their respective territorial and navigable waters, and the
"occupying British government in Iraq" had to respect agreements relevant to
that treaty. She said international law requires Britain to apologize to Iran
and restore its violated rights, while Iran could take its case to the UN
She said the British government seems to not be paying
attention to the "admissions of guilt" made by the British captives that have
been aired on Iranian television. Aminzadeh said the "best thing Iran can do" is
to register the violation as a "historical fact" through press conferences and
"trials that may be held," Fars reported. She said any trial of the Britons
should be broadcast so their "confessions on their violation" of Iranian waters
"are entirely registered and documented."
The entire British detainee incident is, in some respects,
reminiscent of the dispute over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
both disputes, Iran portrays itself as scrupulously abiding by international
laws, while officials accuse Western powers of being forceful, hostile, and
disrespectful of international treaties. The Iranian assertions go against the
apparent spirit of Western media reports, which cite the legal arguments of both
sides but present each dispute as a political and ideological one between
Western powers and a country seen by some as a rogue state.
characteristic of Iran's legal arguments is that they have failed to sway such
bodies as the European Union or the United Nations. They can be described as
being as confusing and that they raise more questions than they
If both sides insist they have evidence pinpointing exactly where
the British service personnel were at the time of their arrest then who, the
observer may wonder, is telling the truth?
As with the nuclear impasse,
questions arise about who is the more trustworthy international agent -- Britain
or Iran? Or, who is more likely to enjoy the sympathy of a global news-viewing
public? But while insisting on legal positions, Iran has shown by broadcasting
the Britons' "confessions" that it is not oblivious to the impact of
psychological pressures and public posturing, the very same tactics it claims
the West has used against Iran.
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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