A man accused of committing a terror offence by spying on Iran International’s London headquarters has claimed he was filming in the area because he was “in wonder” at the architecture.
Magomed-Husejn Dovtaev (Mohammad-Hussein Dovtaev), a Chechen-born resident of Austria, was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command at Chiswick Business Park in February.
Explaining why he had recorded a video of the area on his phone, he told the Old Bailey he “just liked” the building at the business park and was “in wonder” at the architecture.
Prosecutors allege that he tried to collect information about the Iran International’s office by taking photographs and videos.
A single charge has been filed against him for his attempts to gather information “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” Dovtaev has pleaded not guilty to the charge. The trial is expected to conclude next week.
Dovtaev, 31, has claimed that his brother had sent him to Britain to investigate individuals who had stolen money from their father.
He told the jury that his father had been involved in the Chechen opposition and fled to Austria in 2004 when his uncle had been kidnapped by the Russians.
He claimed his father had invested 20,000 euros with Russian-speaking fraudsters, and he was sent to Britain by his brother to investigate who had taken the money.
Police released footage on Thursday of Dovtaev arriving at Gatwick airport and taking a taxi directly to Chiswick Park near the former Iran International headquarters.
Iran International became a target for retaliation following its reporting on Mahsa Amini’s death in custody in Iran last year and subsequent protests in the country, according to prosecutor Nicholas de la Poer.
Iran’s Intelligence Minister declared Iran International a terrorist organization later on, de la Poer said, which caused its employees to “became targets for violent reprisals”.
In November 2022, Volant Media, the parent company of Iran International, said that two of its journalists had been notified of direct threats. It said in a statement the Metropolitan Police had formally notified both journalists that these threats represented an imminent, credible and significant risk to their lives and those of their families. Following the significant escalation in Iranian state-backed threats and advice from the London Metropolitan Police, Iran International TV announced in February that it reluctantly and temporarily closed its London studios and moved broadcasting to Washington DC. After months of hiatus in broadcasting from the UK, the network relaunched operations from a new London building in September.
Faced with nationwide antigovernment protests since mid-September, the Islamic Republic has blamed foreign-based Persian broadcasters such as the BBC Persian and Iran International of “fomenting unrest”, while all media in the country are under tight government control and present protesters as “rioters” and “terrorists”.According to Iran’s Intelligence Minister Esmail Khatib, the Islamic Republic regards Iran International as “a terrorist organization.” He has stated that its staff and anyone affiliated with the channel will be pursued by the Ministry of Intelligence all over the globe, reiterating threats to “punish all those” who had a role in popular protests against the regime, wherever they might be.