By Sam Wilkin
DUBAI (Reuters) - The detention of nine Iranian teachers in the United Arab Emirates has prompted a diplomatic complaint from Tehran and criticism in Iranian media, in a show of strains between countries that are both trade partners and strategic rivals.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the UAE charge d'affaires in Tehran on Sunday to protest against the arrests of the nine, whom it said had been accused of having invalid visas. It noted that the school had been operating legally for several years and called on the UAE authorities to release the teachers.
Tensions between Tehran and Abu Dhabi have risen in recent months after the UAE, home to hundreds of thousands of Iranian expatriates, sent troops to Yemen to bolster the government against an Iranian-allied rebel group.
The UAE is one of several Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states that accuse Shi'ite power Iran of stirring up unrest in Arab states, sometimes using communal ties with Shi'ite minorities in those countries. Iran denies any interference.
The teachers, all male, work at an Iranian school in Al Ain, part of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, but their work permits were from Dubai, another emirate in the UAE, the Iranian ministry said.
An Iranian teacher from a different school in the UAE, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that nine teachers at the Al Ain Iranian Private School had been detained and were awaiting trial.
UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment. Phone calls to the school and the court were not answered. The Iranian Embassy in Abu Dhabi said it did not have further information.
Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said on Monday the teachers were having a "bad experience" in prison and had their heads shaved since their arrest last week. It said they had previously worked in Al Ain on their Dubai visas without any problem.
Fars also quoted lawmaker Abolghasem Khosravi, a member of parliament's education committee, as saying the UAE's behavior was "against international norms" as criticism of the case gathered pace in Iranian media.
(Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Alison Williams)