22nd Mar 2023

EU embassies wary of hosting Iranian protesters

Italy said Sunday (21 June) it had instructed its embassy in Tehran to provide humanitarian aid to wounded protesters, pending a co-ordinated response from all EU countries. But Sweden - which is about to take over the EU presidency - said it cannot grant asylum to refugees.

Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini said he would discuss a European Union-wide proposal to co-ordinate assistance for wounded demonstrators during a meeting in Stockholm on Wednesday.

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  • The Italian embassy in Tehran is providing shelter for wounded protesters (Photo: Faramarz)

Meanwhile, the country - Iran's leading trading partner in the EU - has instructed its embassy to help out "where there is a request or need for help from injured demonstrators," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Iranian state media reported that at least 10 more people died and over 100 were injured in clashes on Saturday between demonstrators contesting the re-election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and riot-police using truncheons, tear gas and water cannons.

The Iranian government also arrested the daughter and four other relatives of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the country's most powerful men, in a move that indicated a rift among the ruling Islamic clerics over the disputed presidential election.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the attitude of Iranian authorities was "inexcusable," and highlighted the government's "pariah" status. Tehran, already isolated due to its nuclear ambitions, is now "depriving its people of their most basic democratic rights," he said.

Earlier on, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a full vote recount. "Germany stands by the people in Iran who want to exercise their right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," she said. A new analysis of voting figures by independent British think tank Chatham House found "irregularities" in the turnout and "highly implausible" swings to Ahmadinejad.

British foreign secretary David Miliband warned the death toll "will raise the level of concern among Iranians and around the world," while US president Barack Obama toughened his stance, calling on Tehran to stop "violent and unjust actions against its own people."

EU embassies on stand-by

The New-York based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran said scores of injured demonstrators who had sought medical treatment after Saturday's clashes were arrested by security forces at hospitals in the capital.

It said doctors had been ordered to report protest-related injuries to the authorities, and that some seriously hurt protesters had sought refuge at foreign embassies in a bid to evade arrest.

"Several emails calling for the opening of embassy doors to protesters were sent Saturday to our embassy in Iran from Sweden, but not an avalanche," Cecilia Julin, communications chief for the Swedish Foreign Office told AFP.

As things stand, Sweden "cannot grant asylum on embassy territory," she said. "If that decision was to be taken, it would mark a very strong gesture with regard to the Iranian government." The refusal comes at a symbolic moment, with Sweden about to take over the EU presidency, and sits strangely with the country's strong record on promoting human rights abroad.

Echoing Italy's position, France and Finland also called for a common EU approach on how to deal with refugees and asylum seekers.

The Austrian foreign ministry said it had been contacted by non-governmental organisations and that anyone injured would receive first aid at its embassy in the Iranian capital, but stressed no-one had yet sought assistance.

Belgium said Sunday it will not allow opposition protesters to seek refuge in its embassy in the Iranian capital. "Contacted in Tehran, Belgium's ambassador denied that the Belgian chancellery would welcome Iranian protesters," a Belgian foreign ministry spokesman said.

A spokesman for Norway, which is not an EU member but has long occupied a special position as an international mediator, said its embassy in Tehran had "not accepted any refugees."

Iran summons EU ambassadors

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said that the Iranian Foreign Ministry had today summoned the Czech charge d'affaires and "his 26 colleagues from the European Union" in Tehran. Mr Kohout's spokesman Milan Repka confirmed that "the Czech charge d'affaires was summoned together with other EU diplomats, and they were not allowed to present their positions."

The Czech charge d'affaires, representing the current EU presidency, was previously summoned to Iran's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday to protest EU statements of concern about harsh treatment of demonstrators who took the streets beginning Saturday, 13 June.

Mr Kohout also said that the way the Iranian government was handling the political crisis undermined its credibility as a partner in talks on the "so- called peaceful use of nuclear energy" by the country. "The credibility, if it has existed ...will be remarkably low."

Iran has also imposed strict controls on foreign media covering the unrest, saying correspondents cannot go out into the streets to report. Reporters Without Borders said 23 journalists were arrested over the past week. BBC's Tehran-based correspondent, Jon Leyne, had been asked to leave the country, while Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari was arrested Sunday morning and had not been heard from since.

For his part, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Sunday accused France of taking "treacherous and unjust approaches." He repeated accusations of Britain's alleged "meddling," saying it flew intelligence agents into Iran before the election to interfere with the vote. The election, he insisted, was a "very transparent competition."

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