DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A citizen of Poland is being held in Tehran, the Polish government said Thursday, confirming the detention after Iran's Revolutionary Guard accused several Europeans of spying on military sites as tensions remain high between Tehran and the West.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry said that Iran had arrested a “highly reputed scientist” last September, adding that the government was providing consular assistance to the detainee and working to secure his release. The government provided no other details, citing privacy requirements.
Iran on Wednesday named a Polish scientist as being among of a group of diplomats and foreigners accused of spying and taking soil samples from prohibited military zones in Iran's desert while the Guard was carrying out missile tests.
Iranian media identified the detainee as Maciej Walczak, a scientist at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland.
The Revolutionary Guard also alleged that it had detained the deputy ambassador of the United Kingdom, Giles Whitaker, on the same espionage charges — a claim dismissed out of hand by the U.K. Foreign Office.
British Ambassador to Iran Simon Shercliff described the Iranian media reports about Whitaker's detention as “very interesting," noting on Twitter Thursday that Whitaker “actually left Iran last December, at the end of his posting.”
The semiofficial Fars news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, claimed Whitaker had visited the prohibited military zone while traveling in the country as a tourist with his family. State TV broadcast footage that it said showed Whitaker taking photos and ground samples in the area of missile exercises.
Iran also claimed the Guard had arrested the husband of Austria’s cultural attaché — an allegation denied by Austria on Thursday. The Austrian government said that none of its staff or their family members had been detained.
Tensions have spiked between Iran and the West after former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposed punishing sanctions four years ago. Iran has responded by massively expanding its nuclear work under diminishing international oversight.
Iran has in the past arrested dual nationals and those with Western ties, often on widely criticized espionage charges, and used them as bargaining chips in talks over other issues, such as nuclear negotiations.
Efforts to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear accord have been deadlocked for months.