Britain is urging Iran to stop detaining dual nationals to obtain "diplomatic leverage," after the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said they had arrested seven people with links to the United Kingdom, including dual citizens.
In a December 25 statement, the IRGC accused the seven of forming a team with "direct guidance from England" and of operating with the intention of "overthrowing the system."
"We are urgently seeking further information from the Iranian authorities on the reports of those British-Iranian dual nationals," U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesperson told reporters on December 28.
"We've always said that we will never accept our nationals...being used for diplomatic leverage and we urge the government of Iran to stop its practice of unfairly detaining British and other foreign nationals."
The reported arrests come amid nationwide unrest triggered by the September death of a 22-year-old woman in the custody of morality police. The protests have posed one of the biggest challenges to the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.
The security forces have cracked down hard on the wave of protests, killing at least 469 people, including 63 children, according to one human rights group.
At least 18,000 others have been detained. Dozens have been handed capital punishment or are facing charges that carry a death sentence. Iran carried out the first two executions earlier this month, triggering international condemnation.
The European Union, the United States, Britain and other countries have imposed sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities for their roles in the bloody crackdown.
Iranian officials have blamed the Islamic Republic’s foreign foes and their agents of fomenting the unrest, without providing any evidence.
Security forces have reportedly taken some 40 foreign nationals into custody since the protests began, often without revealing any charges.
Iran does not recognize the dual citizenship of Iranian nationals, and Western countries have accused Tehran of unjustifiably detaining dual and foreign nationals to use as leverage in prisoner swaps.