EU lawmakers cancel Iran visit

2012-10-27 18:01
A planned visit to Iran by five Euro MPs has been called off. (AP)

A planned visit to Iran by five Euro MPs has been called off. (AP)

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Brussels - A planned visit to Iran by five Euro MPs was called off on Saturday after Tehran refused to let them meet with a jailed activist lawyer and a filmmaker, just a day after the two were awarded a prestigious European human rights prize.

"The five MEPs were about to leave for Tehran when delegation chair (Tarja) Cronberg received a phone call from the Iranian ambassador to the EU, saying they would not be allowed to meet with the two Sakharov Prize winners," jailed lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, a European Parliament source said.

Sotoudeh, 47, who is serving an 11-year jail sentence for conspiring against state security, and Panahi, 52, who is under house arrest and has been banned from making films for 20 years, were awarded the 2012 Sakharov Prize on Friday.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran categorically rejected any pre-conditions. Therefore this visit has been cancelled," the Young Journalists Club, an affiliate of the state broadcaster, reported on its website.

The Isna news agency quoted Hossein Sheikholeslam, international affairs advisor to the speaker of parliament, as saying that Iran had "rejected a pre-condition set by the European parliamentary delegation to meet with two prisoners".

EU sanctions

"If the delegation agrees to visit Iran under the initially agreed conditions and agenda, then there is no objection to the visit... But we cannot accept the current pre-condition."

Iran has cracked down on both since its disputed June 2009 presidential election.

Sotoudeh is a leading human rights campaigner known for her work as a lawyer representing opposition activists, while Panahi has been acclaimed at international festivals for his gritty, socially critical movies.

The human rights and democracy prize "is a message of solidarity and recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own", Parliament President Martin Schulz said on Friday.

Schulz had also warned that the visit would be cancelled if the delegation was unable to meet Sotoudeh and Panahi.

The rights award comes on the heels of tough new EU sanctions against Iran aimed at forcing a breakthrough in talks between global powers and Tehran on its disputed nuclear programme.

After a biting oil embargo took effect in July, EU foreign ministers last week tightened the economic noose by targeting dealings with Iran's banks, shipping and gas imports.

The last visit by a European parliamentary delegation to Iran was in 2007.

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