• Ashton: There's nowhere better on Valentine's Day to be than in Washington DC (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU and US urge Iran to free Mousavi

15.02.13 @ 09:26

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The EU and US have called on Iran to free opposition leaders ahead of elections in June.

Iranian security services put Mehdi Karroubi, Hossein Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, under house arrest on 14 February 2011 after they called for street protests in Iran in support of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Mousavi himself was at the centre of Iranian pro-democracy rallies after rigged elections in 2009.

They have been cut off from contact with the outside world and with their families for the past two years despite the fact they were never charged with a crime.

Police on 11 February also arrested Karroubi's son and Mousavi's two daughters.

They were let go later the same day. But rights groups saw the move as another attempt to make sure that reformist politicians do not make trouble ahead of the presidential vote in June.

A statement by six leading NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, on Thursday (14 February) noted that "hundreds" of other opposition activists, journalists, students and lawyers are currently in jail.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton the same day said she "calls on the authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as she has done on various occasions in the past, to grant [Karrabi, Mousavi and Rahnvard] their right to freedom of movement."

Separately, a US state department spokeswoman noted: "We repeat our appeal for the immediate release of these individuals and of all prisoners who are being held for their religious or political beliefs."

How turbulent the June elections will be remains to be seen.

The Islamic state's highest office is held by religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But when one of his officials, Hojjat al-Islam Ali Saeidi, in January said that security forces should "rationally and logically engineer the elections" it provoked a national outcry from reformists and from the outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The EU and US appeal also comes one week ahead of international talks in Kazakhstan on Iran's nuclear programme.

The newly-appointed US secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington on Thursday told Ashton, who will chair the nuclear negotiations: "We hope that the talks in Almaty in a few days can show some further progress, perhaps open some additional opportunities."

For her part, Ashton on Wednesday told the UN Security Council in New York that Iran should show "flexibility."

But her own officials have in recent weeks publicly complained about Iranian time-wasting and obfuscation in terms of setting the venue and the agenda for the meeting.

Speaking alongside Kerry in Washington on Thursday, Ashton also noted she is keen to have as close a relationship with America's new foreign policy chief as she did with his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.

"There's nowhere better on Valentine's Day to be than in Washington DC to celebrate this great partnership. And as I’ve said to you before, we want to be your most reliable partner," she said.