After an eight-member European parliament delegation visited Tehran for the first time in six years in a sign of warming ties between Iran and the EU, a resulting backlash has raised demands for an inquiry after hard-liners in Iran criticized the delegation’s “secret” meeting with dissident filmmaker Jaffar Panahi and human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh at the Greek Embassy in Tehran.
The head of Iran’s Administrative Justice Court, Mohammad Jaffar Montazeri, said in a public session that while it is customary for parliamentary delegations to discuss economic matters, this delegation “secretly met with two seditionists who were convicted in the 2009 sedition.” He added, “It needs to become clear who made this meeting possible.” The term “sedition” is used by Iranian officials in reference to the 2009 protests.
Sotoudeh was arrested in September of 2010 and charged with “actions against state security.” She was suddenly released without explanation just before Iran’s visit to the UN General Assembly in September. She is still banned from practicing law. Panahi was arrested during the 2009 election protests and charged with wanting to make a film about the protests. He was released in May 2010 and is currently banned from directing or writing movies.
It was reported that the European delegation was invited by the European-Iranian parliamentary friendship group, but Mohammad Hassan Asfari, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said that this body does not currently exist and was a part of the previous parliament. He added that whoever brought this delegation to Tehran “needs to answer for their meeting with Nasrin Sotoudeh and Jaffar Panahi” and that “Parliament will certainly pursue the matter.”
Conservative parliament member Kazem Jalali, who greeted the delegation in Tehran and is reported to have organized the event, defended the delegation’s visit and said, “This relationship has existed for 10, 12 years.” Jalali said that the Panahi and Sotoudeh visit was not on the agenda and that the meeting at the Greek Embassy was “in no way the right thing to do.” He criticized the “embassy or embassies that coordinated this meeting,” calling it “interference in the country’s domestic affairs.” Jalali requested that Iran’s Foreign Ministry look into the details of the meeting to discern who was responsible for it.
A number of other officials also criticized the European delegation’s meeting with the two “seditionists.” Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Dori Najafabadi said that when the Europeans meet with people like Sotoudeh and Panahi, who he likened to al-Qaeda and armed Iranian opposition groups, they “put their character, honor, and trust under question.” Hard-line parliament member Hamid Rasaei said that it’s possible that the meeting was not on the original itinerary, but that the host of the meeting must be held accountable.
The European delegation arrived in Tehran last Friday and will stay until Wednesday. In addition to Sotoudeh and Panahi, the group also met with Iranian lawmakers and officials, including head of the Expediency Council Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and members of parliament, including speaker Ali Larijani.