URGENT Iraq Hangs London-Based Reporter; London Recalls Ambassador
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ The government today defied international appeals for mercy and hanged a London-based newspaper reporter who was arrested near a military complex and convicted of spying for Britain and Israel.
Britain recalled its ambassador from Iraq, accusing Baghdad of an act of barbarism for executing Farzad Bazoft, 31. The Iranian-born journalist was working for the British weekly The Observer and traveling on British documents.
Britain’s foreign secretary, Douglas Hurd, also announced the suspension of ministerial visits and said all Iraqi students would be sent home.
Bazoft was convicted Saturday by a revolutionary court in a closed trial.
He was arrested in September near a plant where ballistic missiles are reportedly being developed. He was investigating reports that hundreds of people had died in an explosion.
Robin Kealy, the British consul in Baghdad, spent more than an hour with the condemned reporter before the hanging. He told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Bazoft looked ″hollow-eyed and subdued.″
Information Minister Latif Nassayif Jassim said the body was turned over to the British Embassy. ″(British Prime Minister Margaret) Thatcher wanted him alive. We sent him in a box,″ he told journalists.
″This is a very, very grave and serious matter. The Iraqi government’s action is an act of barbarism which is deeply repugnant to all civilized people,″ Mrs. Thatcher said in the House of Commons after Bazoft was hanged.
″There have been few occasions when there has been such a universal appeal by world leaders for mercy to be shown,″ Hurd said in London. ″We are appalled that despite that worldwide appeal, the Iraqi government has gone ahead with this barbarous act.″
The execution came despite pleas for clemency from Britain, U.N. Secretary- General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Amnesty International, the European Community and international press groups.
In Strasbourg, France, the European Parliament observed a minute of silence in Bazoft’s memory and condemned the execution, which it said ″discredits the Iraqi government.″
David Anderson, foreign affairs spokesman for Britain’s opposition Labor Party, said Britain should immediately withdraw its ambassador, cancel a trade mission and press for further action from European allies.
In London, the human rights group Amnesty International said the execution was the latest in a long list of ″severe and systematic human rights abuses,″ in Iraq.
Article 19, a British group which campaigns against censorship, said it would step up its campaign to expose ″the appalling abuse of human rights in Iraq.″
Donald Trelford, the editor of The Observer, denied that Bazoft was a spy and called President Saddam Hussein a barbarian.
″This is an outrage,″ Trelford told the BBC. ″What kind of regime is it that can fly in the face of the whole of the world’s opinion and kill a reporter for being a reporter? This is a monstrous regime.″
Hussein on Wednesday rejected a visit by Hurd seeking mercy for Bazoft.
″He was a British and Israeli agent and they are making a lot of fuss thinking we will be afraid. But we are not afraid at all,″ said Hussein, who has been seeking Western aid to rebuild his country after an eight-year war with neighboring Iran.
Several government-run newspapers in Baghdad today published what they called handwritten confessions by Bazoft, along with photos of documents in English.
″Yes, I do work and deal with Israelis and British Special Branch,″ one document said. All five documents bore a signature, simply the first name ″Farzad.″
The Special Branch is a section of Scotland Yard that fights terrorism and serious crime. It is not usually involved in spying operations abroad.
The alleged confession said Bazoft was instructed to gather military and economic information during his six trips to Iraq between April 1988 and last September.
Bazoft was arrested after making an unauthorized trip to the Al-Iskandaria military complex south of Baghdad. Daphne Parish, a British nurse who drove Bazoft to the military complex, was also arrested in September. She was tried with him and sentenced to 15 years in prison for complicity.
Ms. Parish, 52, is a senior nursing administrator for an Irish-run hospital in Baghdad.
Under Iraqi law, no court appeal was allowed of the sentences given to Bazoft and Ms. Parish.
Last year, Western diplomats in Baghdad confirmed there had been an explosion at the complex around Aug. 17.
The London newspaper The Independent quoted unidentified diplomats and Middle East sources as saying 700 people were killed, including Egyptian engineers helping the Iraqis to develop a ballistic missile.
The Iraqis are believed to be developing a modified version of Argentina’s medium-range, Condor-2, surface-to-surface missile known as the Badr-2000 at the facility 40 miles south of Baghdad. Iraq is virulently anti-Israeli.
Iraq has said there was an explosion and fire at a fuel depot in the same area on the same date, Aug. 17, and that 19 people were killed, all Iraqis.
″At a time when the Iraqis were telling the world that there had not been an explosion at this secret military base south of Baghdad, he clearly proved that the explosion had happened,″ said Paul Davis, a reporter for Britain’s Independent Television network who was in Iraq with Bazoft. ″He embarrassed Iraq, and now they’ve taken this terrible revenge.″