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University Confirms Detention Of Polish Scientist After Iranian Report On Foreigners’ Alleged Spying

Updated

This image grab from footage released by Iranian state television on July 7 shows a man claimed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps to be Giles Whitaker, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Tehran, allegedly seen in the Shahdad desert, in the southeastern province of Kerman.

A Polish professor has been detained by Iran since September, a spokesman with the university confirmed to RFE/RL on July 7 after Iran claimed that it had arrested a group of foreigners on spying charges.

Maciej Walczak, a professor at Copernicus University in Poland, was detained along with two colleagues, who were later released, university spokesman Marcin Czyzniewski told RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.

Maciej Walczak
Maciej Walczak

The confirmation came after Britain's ambassador to Iran said a British diplomat whom Tehran claimed was among the foreigners it had detained on spying charges had in fact left the country late last year.

The ambassador’s comments followed contradictory reports about the status and whereabouts of Giles Whitaker, Britain's deputy chief of mission in Tehran, and several other foreigners.

Czyniewski said Walczak was put on trial and sentenced to three years in prison on unknown charges. The spokesman added that Polish diplomats managed to visit him twice in prison and the university has been in contact with the Polish Foreign Ministry to push for his release.

Earlier, a statement from the Polish Foreign Ministry confirmed the arrest of a Polish "recognized scientist" without giving details about his identity.

The statement said Polish diplomats had been contact "with our citizen and his family," adding that "the detainee" had also received legal aid.

The statement was issued a day after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) accused the British diplomat and other foreigners of “espionage” and taking soil samples from prohibited military zones.

The state-controlled television aired footage purportedly showing Walczak and three others collecting earth samples from a restricted area in the central desert of Iran. It said their sample collection coincided with a missile test in Iran's southern Kerman Province.

The IRGC said the group was arrested but did not say when or whether they were currently in custody.

The semiofficial Fars news agency also published a photo showing four people in a desert setting, identifying them as the group that had been detained. Fars also said Whitaker had been expelled from Iran after apologizing.

Britain's Foreign Office on July 6 rejected the report that a diplomat had been arrested, calling it "completely false."

"These reports that our Deputy Ambassador is currently detained are very interesting," Ambassador Simon Shercliff wrote on Twitter on July 7. "He actually left Iran last December, at the end of his posting."

Neither Shercliff nor the Foreign Office indicated whether Whitaker had been detained prior to his departure.

Iran has in the past arrested dual nationals and those with Western ties, often on espionage charges, and leveraged them as bargaining chips in talks over other issues such as nuclear negotiations.

Talks to revive the nuclear deal between Iran and several world powers have been stalled for months.

A recent effort to break the deadlock between U.S. and Iranian negotiators ended last week without a breakthrough.

Also on July 7, the British Defense Ministry announced that British naval ships had raided Iranian vessels earlier this year and seized weapons in waters south of Iran.

The seizures occurred on two separate occasions -- January 28 and February 25 -- and involved Royal Marines who "approached the vessels on two Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats before securing and searching the vessels." On one occasion, a U.S. naval helicopter was indirectly involved as well.

Weapons seized included multiple rocket engines for an Iranian cruise missile and 358 surface-to-air missiles, the ministry said.

No further details were given, and it was unclear why the ministry made the announcement on July 7, months after the two incidents, though the timing suggested a coordinated effort by London to send a warning to Tehran.

With reporting by Fars and Reuters
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