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Britain slams Iran over reported jailing of embassy worker

Iranian British embassy employee Hossein Rassam at a revolutionary court in Tehran on August 8, 2009.
Iranian British embassy employee Hossein Rassam at a revolutionary court in Tehran on August 8, 2009.
  • European Union, France and the UK denounced the trial of Rassam
  • Rassam one of several UK embassy employees after unrest in June
  • Thousands of Iranians protested the results of the presidential election

London, England (CNN) -- Reports that Iran has sentenced a British embassy employee to four years in prison are "deeply concerning," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Thursday.

Hossein Rassam "is a hardworking embassy official" who was "doing work that was wholly within the boundaries of diplomatic work," Miliband said at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium.

The reported sentence is "wholly unjustified and represents further harassment of embassy staff for going about their normal and legitimate duties," Miliband had said earlier, in a statement issued Wednesday.

Rassam is one of several British embassy employees arrested in the wake of Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election. Thousands of Iranians took to the streets to protest the official results declaring President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner.

Iran accused Britain and the United States of fomenting the unrest.

Rassam was put on trial in August. The European Union, France and the United Kingdom denounced the proceeding.

Rassam's lawyer has not officially been informed of the embassy worker's sentence, and he does not know where Rassam is, he told Iranian media.

Abdolsamad Khorramshahi told the Fars News Agency that the terms of Rassam's bail did not prevent him from leaving the country. He said Rassam had been in Iran recently, but he did not know his current whereabouts.

He said he could not express an opinion on the verdict before the court officially informs him of it, which he said normally happens after it is issued.

The European Union condemned the reported verdict as "unjustified and harsh," and urged "the Iranian authorities to overturn it swiftly," the Swedish presidency of the 27-nation bloc said in a statement Thursday.

"Any action against one EU country (a citizen or member of embassy staff) is considered an action against the entire EU, and will be treated accordingly," the statement said.

France also condemned the sentencing of Rassam.

Miliband said he understood the sentence could be appealed and urged "the authorities to conduct this quickly and overturn this harsh sentence."

"This will be seen as an attack against the entire diplomatic community in Iran," he said in a statement late Wednesday.

The Foreign Office summoned the Iranian ambassador to London, and Britain's envoy in Tehran spoke to Iran's deputy foreign minister, Miliband said.