• To go or not to go? MEP's trips to Iran was cancelled at the last minute in 2011 and 2010 (Photo: Amin Tabrizi)

MEPs cancel Iran trip over Sakharov meeting

26.10.12 @ 13:22

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Two Iranian dissidents have won the EU's freedom prize, but MEPs who had hoped to meet them in Iran have called off their trip.

The parliament on Friday (26 October) said that Jafar Panahi (a film maker) and Nasrin Sotoudeh (a human rights lawyer) got the prize as "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."

Sotoudeh, a mother of two, is currently on hunger strike in prison.

The €50,000 Sakharov Prize is to be handed over at a ceremony in Strasbourg in December.

The parliament decision coincided with a previously-scheduled trip to Iran by a group of five left-leaning MEPs led by Finnish Green Tarja Cronberg.

The delegation had hoped to meet the Sakharov laureates to hand-deliver invitation letters from EU parliament chief Martin Schulz to the prize-giving ceremony.

But Cronberg cancelled the trip on Saturday morning after the Iranian ambassador to the EU told her that he could not guarantee "at such short notice" that she would be able to do it.

"I deeply regret that permission to meet the Sakharov laureates was withheld. The European Parliament is nevertheless determined to continue its support for and involvement with the Iranian civil society," Schulz said in a statement.

The cancellation is the third time in a row that the trip has been called off at the last minute.

Last year, Iran declined to give visas.

In 2010, EU parliament chiefs blocked it after a kindergarten teacher was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

The visit to Iran had in any case been criticised by centre-right MEPs, US politicians and Jewish lobby groups.

Daniel Schwammenthal, the head of the Brussels office of the American Jewish Committee, had told this website that even if MEPs ask tough questions on human rights in closed-doors meetings, they will end up being shown on TV smiling and shaking hands in a "propaganda victory" for the regime.

He had added that it would be "really disheartening" for dissidents such as the Sotoudeh and Panahi to watch the spectacle.

For her part, Cronberg had noted that she had cut meetings from the agenda with people on the EU's Iran sanctions list, such as Iranian chief justice Sadegh Larijani, even though she personally believes the EU sanctions do not work.

She admitted it would have been hard to control who actually walks into the meeting room once she is on the ground in Iran, however.

She had added the main purpose of the trip would have been to call for the abolition of the death penalty and that she would have steered clear of the nuclear issue because the EU parliament has no mandate on it.

"There will probably be efforts to this effect [propaganda]. We are aware of this and we will be very clear about the message that we bring," she had said.

This story was updated on Saturday (27 October)