Iran announced tonight that the 15 British sailors captured off the coast of Iraq would get indicted as spies. A website associated with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims that the sailors are "insurgents" and that they would try to prove that the group deliberately entered Iranian waters with the intent to spy on the Islamic Republic:
FIFTEEN British sailors and marines arrested by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards off the coast of Iraq may be charged with spying.
A website run by associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, reported last night that the Britons would be put before a court and indicted.
Referring to them as “insurgents”, the site concluded: “If it is proven that they deliberately entered Iranian territory, they will be charged with espionage. If that is proven, they can expect a very serious penalty since according to Iranian law, espionage is one of the most serious offences.”
The warning followed claims by Iranian officials that the British navy personnel had been taken to Tehran, the capital, to explain their “aggressive action” in entering Iranian waters. British officials insist the servicemen were in Iraqi waters when they were held.
The penalty for espionage in Iran is death. However, similar accusations of spying were made when eight British servicemen were detained in the same area in 2004. They were paraded blindfolded on television but did not appear in court and were freed after three nights in detention.
The Iranians cannot try the men for espionage if they captured the sailors in uniform. Article 46 of the Geneva Convention states this clearly:
2. A member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict who, on behalf of that Party and in territory controlled by an adverse Party, gathers or attempts to gather information shall not be considered as engaging in espionage if, while so acting, he is in the uniform of his armed forces.
The indictment of British sailors in uniform as spies will violate the GC. Can we expect the same level of outrage over this explicit violation as the supposed violations of the US government?