Photo by Maryam Ashrafi.

The Iranian ambassador in Paris came face-to-face with anti-government protesters on Sunday, leading to a scuffle and his subsequent restraint by French police. In Iran, the incident went unreported. But the entire affair was caught on camera.

The scuffle broke out on Sunday (Jan. 31) when Iranian embassy staff gathered in Neauphle-le-Château, on the outskirts of Paris, for a commemoration of Ayatollah Khomeini's return to Iran in 1979. For the first time in 30 years, there was a group of anti-regime protesters waiting outside. When the Iranian ambassador, Mehdi Mir Abu Talebi, arrived on the scene, he confronted the crowd, while his entourage resisted the police's attempts to move the group on. At that point the police restrained the ambassador before releasing him and forcing him to move away from the protesters.

Video posted on YouTube by "NedaSoltan".

At 06'30 the ambassador starts pointing and shouting. At 06'50, someone from the ambassador's entourage tries to get through the police barricade but is himself restrained. At 07'35 the ambassador's entourage appears to try resist the police. At 08'45, the ambassador is restrained.

“I think the French police understand our cause”

Maryam Ashrafi is an exiled Iranian photographer who lives in Paris and took part in the protest.

This is the first time we've protested at this particular event. Since last year's elections, we target any gathering taken part in by Iranian authorities. Around 15 of us went to stand outside the house that they use each year for the annual 'return to Iran of Khomeini' celebration. It was the house he lived in when he was exiled for 15 years. The people arriving with the ambassador by bus [at 05'10 on the video] are presumably related to the embassy here in some way.

Some of the guests come into the garden and start shouting at us that we're spies from the US and UK paid by their governments, only working for them because we want asylum. They threaten us with things like: 'We know who you are, we know your families.' One of them actually said to me personally: 'We've got photos of you at all these protests.' Some of the protesters here have been warned by their families in Iran to stop because they've received threats at home.

There are lots of Iranian ambassador events held in France because it was where a lot of the current regime was exiled before they founded the Islamic Republic. We go to every one of them to protest. Because of that we've gotten to know the police and often talk to them. I think they realise that it's the officials who are more violent than us. So while I can't say they take sides, I will say that I think they understand our cause and are careful to protect us.

As for the French government, well, [President Nicolas] Sarkozy did try to put a bit of pressure on Iran when things were really flaring up, but he's lost interest since. Of course we're disappointed, but not surprised, we know Sarkozy does little for his own people so we're not expecting anything for Iran."