On March 9, four followers of Grand Ayatollah Sadegh Hossein Shirazi, an outspoken critic of Iran’s clerical leadership, climbed onto the first-floor balcony of Iran’s embassy in London and took down the flag. They waived blue-and-white flags of a U.K.-based Shiite group called Khodam al Mahdi, which reportedly supports Shirazi. Along with several people in the street, the four black-clad men chanted slogans against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei such as “Down, down, Khamenei” and “Khamenei is a pharaoh.’ After around three hours, the men voluntarily came down and were arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and trespassing on diplomatic premises, a spokesman for London’s Metropolitan police said. No one was hurt.
متعرضان فقط روي بالكن بيروني ساختمان سفارت بوده و در محاصره پليس هستند. همكاران همه در داخل سفارت در آرامش و امنيت هستند. pic.twitter.com/WBdpnhF5tF— Hamid Baeidinejad (@baeidinejad) March 9, 2018
Iran’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidnejad, tweeted that the men were “advocates of the Shirazi cult.” He accused the group of adhering to a sectarian interpretation of Shiism and insulting figures revered by Sunnis. For decades, the group has criticized late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s promotion of Sunni-Shiite relations. Baeidnejad also claimed that the attackers were carrying sticks and knives when they stormed the embassy.
The protest may have been linked to the detention of Grand Ayatollah Shirazi’s 47-year-old son, Hossein. A London-based representative of the elder Shirazi told BBC’s Persian Service that Hossein, also a cleric, was detained in the holy city of Qom on March 6 after attending a theology class. In February, Hossein reportedly had accused Iranian leaders of tyranny. He also reportedly challenged the Islamic Republic’s system of government by comparing the concept of velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurist, to the regimes of “pharaohs” in Egypt. Dozens of Shirazi supporters demonstrated in front of the Iranian consulate in Karbala, Iraq after news of his detention spread in March. Another protest was held in front of Iran’s embassy in Baghdad.
🔴 عاجل | الجماهير المستنكرة في مدينة #الكاظمية_المقدسة بالعاصمة العراقية #بغداد تبدأ بالتجمع وإطلاق شعارات المطالبة بإطلاق سراح سماحة آية الله #السيد_حسين_الشيرازي والمختطف من قبل النظام الإيراني من أكثر من 4 أيام.#كلنا_السيد_حسين_الشيرازي#الحرية_للسيد_حسين_الشيرازي pic.twitter.com/FFjIVlIdb3— AlShiraziMedia (@AlShiraziMedia) March 10, 2018
Qassim al Fahd, a media representative of Ayatollah Shirazi in London, distanced the cleric from the embassy attack. “These are followers of Ayatollah Shirazi, they have done this independently,” he said. “They do not have any organizational links with Shirazi and his representatives.”
Grand Ayatollah Shirazi, age 75, is a senior cleric with followers in both Iraq and Iran. Hardliners in Iran have accused him of promoting a radical brand of Shiism and receiving funds from the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. “There are many clues that the Shirazi cult is under the aegis of Britain, as this country seeks to repeat what happened (in Iran) in the era of Constitutional Revolution,” Iranian Prosecutor General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said on television on March 10. The British supported the shah in his efforts to weaken the constitution and controlled part of the country in the early 1900s.
Shirazi’s followers have denied the allegations, citing his independence and criticism of Iran’s ruling establishment as the real reasons for why he has been denounced.
On March 10, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned the U.K. ambassador in Tehran, Nicholas Hopton, to protest the incident in London. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi demanded “absolute protection of our diplomats in London and immediate dealing of the police with the attackers,” according to state media. The U.K. embassy in Tehran issued the following statement.
British Ambassador: I was very sorry to hear about the incident at the Iranian Embassy in London on Friday. UK takes its Vienna Convention obligations seriously. The safety and security of diplomats and diplomatic missions in the UK is of paramount importance to us.— UK in Iran (@UKinIran) March 11, 2018