Iran cancels EU visit over preconditions

Tehran cancels European Parliament visit after delegation requests meeting with two dissidents who won rights prize.

iranian dissidents
Iran cancelled the delegation's visit after they insisted upon visiting Sotoudeh, pictured, and Panahi in jail [AFP]

Iran has cancelled a European Parliament delegation visit to Tehran after the group asked to meet two jailed Iranian dissidents awarded a top EU rights prize, a parliament spokeswoman said.

The decision came after senior officials at the parliament, which on Friday awarded its Sakharov prize for human rights and freedom of thought to filmmaker Jafar Panahi andhuman rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, said they wanted the delegation to meet the two activists.

“After hearing the new conditions, the Iranians decided to cancel,” European Parliament spokeswoman Satu Helin told the Reuters news agency. The delegation was set to travel to Tehran from October 27 to November 2.

Iran’s Mehr news agency quoted an Iranian parliamentary official as saying the European delegation had stated as a “precondition” a visit with Sotoudeh and Panahi.

“The European parliamentary delegation wished to visit two Iranian political prisoners and give them a prize,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, international affairs adviser to Iran’s parliament, according to Mehr. “Iran did not agree with this condition.”

Iran has strongly cracked down on dissidents since its disputed June 2009 presidential election. Both winners of the prize were charged with roles in supporting the opposition in post-election unrest.

Ties between Iran and Europe have become increasingly strained over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.

But meetings between European and Iranian parliamentary delegations were meant to keep open a line of communication, including with civil society groups, even though the European Parliament has little influence over dealings with Tehran.

Western countries accuse Iran of seeking a nuclear bomb, while Tehran denies this and says its programme is for peaceful purposes only.

Source: News Agencies