By Sam Tobin
LONDON, Dec 20 (Reuters) – A man accused of carrying out “hostile reconnaissance” against a London-based television station critical of Iran‘s government was on Wednesday convicted of collecting information that could be used in a terrorist attack on the channel.
Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev flew from Austria to London in February, then went straight to the Persian-language Iran International channel’s headquarters in west London.
Prosecutors said Dovtaev, 31, went to Iran International’s office to try and record security arrangements after the channel became a target following its reporting on the death in custody of Mahsa Amini in Iran and subsequent protests last year.
Prosecutor Nicholas de la Poer told London’s Old Bailey last week that Iran‘s minister of intelligence had declared Iran International a terrorist organisation – and that others had carried out surveillance on the channel before Dovtaev.
Dovtaev denied a single count of attempting to collect information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism and said he had been “set up” into visiting Iran International’s London office.
He gave evidence that he and his father had been defrauded of around 20,000 euros and were told the fraudsters could be traced to a business park in west London, not knowing that it was in fact the headquarters of Iran International.
Dovtaev was found guilty by a jury on Wednesday. He showed no emotion as the verdict was delivered. Judge Richard Marks said he will sentence Dovtaev on Friday.
Iran International had said in February, shortly after Dovtaev was arrested, that it was moving its live broadcasting studios to the U.S. following threats it faced in Britain.
The channel resumed broadcasting from London in September.
An Iran International spokesperson said in a statement: “This trial was a reminder of the threats journalists and news organisations face. Journalism is under attack across the world from those who seek to suppress media freedom.
“We will not be cowed by threats. Our journalists will continue to provide the independent, uncensored news the people of Iran deserve,” he said.
“Today’s verdict sends a clear message that the UK remains a bastion of free speech where threats against journalists will not be tolerated.”
Commander Dominic Murphy, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, said in a statement: “Dovtaev never said who he was working for or with and we could find no further evidence of this, but we did find enough evidence to show the jury that he was there to carry out terrorist-related activity.
“His actions were chilling and put into sharp focus our wider concerns about threats emanating from Iran that continue to be directed towards certain individuals and media organisations here in the UK.”
(Reporting by Sam Tobin; editing by Daniel Wallis and Mark Heinrich)