Published March 29, 2007
LONDON – Iran broadcast the first pictures Wednesday of the 15 British sailors and marines it seized last week, including a female captive who wore a white tunic and a black head scarf and said the British boats had "trespassed" in Iranian waters.
Britain immediately protested the airing of the footage, calling it "completely unacceptable for these pictures to be shown on television." Earlier in the day, Britain had announced it was freezing all contacts with Iran apart from negotiations to free the sailors.
The 15 have been caught in the middle of a tense dispute between the two governments about whether the sailors were operating in Iraqi waters when they were captured Friday, as Britain says, or whether they had illegally entered Iranian waters, as Iran says.
"Obviously we trespassed into their waters," Turney, 26, says on the video. "They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people. They explained to us why we've been arrested, there was no harm, no aggression," she said.
Turney, sitting in a room with a floral background, was also shown in uniform eating with sailors and marines and at one point was shown smoking a cigarette with eyes downcast.
British officials declined to comment on whether showing the video footage of the sailors and marines violated the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit countries from putting captured military personnel on display.
The chief spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross also declined to comment, saying the ICRC was not involved in the situation.
The video footage included a brief scene of what appeared to be the British sailors sitting in an Iranian boat in open waters immediately after their capture.
At one point, a handwritten letter from Turney is shown. In it, Turney writes, "I have written a letter to the Iranian people to apologize for us entering their waters."
Turney was the only person to be shown speaking in the video.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking during an Arab leaders summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had said that Turney — the only female crew member — could be released later on Wednesday or on Thursday.
Prime Minister Tony Blair called the capture of the 15 Royal Navy crew "unacceptable, wrong and illegal." He told the House of Commons Wednesday that it was "now time to ratchet up the international and diplomatic pressure" on Tehran.
That included the release by the British Defense Ministry Wednesday of GPS coordinates it said proved the 15 were in Iraqi waters when they were arrested — about 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters on the Shatt al-Arab waterway. The ministry also said the Iranians had made inconsistent designations of the location where the incident occurred.
In a first act of retribution against Tehran, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett suspended bilateral talks with Tehran on all other issues. Visits by officials were stopped, issuing visas to Iranian officials suspended and British support for events such as trade missions put on hold, her office said.
President Bush spoke to British Prime Minister Tony Blair over a secured video conference call about the standoff Wednesday.
"The president fully backs Tony Blair and our allies in Britain," she said.
Oil prices rose by more than US$1 a barrel Wednesday as the sailor standoff continued and on rumors that Iran had fired a missile at a U.S. ship in the Persian Gulf.