Iran criticizes European MEPs for meeting dissidents

During a six-day visit, the eight-member European Parliament delegation met leading dissidents

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Iran has criticized European parliamentarians for meeting leading dissidents during a visit this month to the Islamic republic, media reports said on Sunday.

During a six-day visit that ended on Tuesday, the eight-member European Parliament delegation met rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and film-maker Jafar Panahi, who both won the Sakharov prize for human rights in 2012.

"The Greek charge d'affaires was summoned to the foreign ministry on Saturday to be informed of Iran's displeasure" at the meetings, the ISNA news agency reported.

The Greek embassy had arranged for the visiting MEPs to meet Sotoudeh and Panahi, who were both detained in connection with the unrest in 2009 that followed the reelection of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Sotoudeh was freed from jail in September after serving three years of an 11-year sentence and handed a 20-year ban from practising law for "acting against national security and propaganda against the regime".

Sotoudeh was released from jail with a nearly dozen other political prisoners in September, part of a charm offensive by new President Hassan Rowhani.

Panahi was detained for a documentary he tried to make on the 2009 unrest and was banned from making more films for 20 years.

The European delegation, led by Green MEP Tarja Cronberg from Finland, also met senior officials including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

But their meetings with Sotoudeh and Panahi aggravated the conservative camp, with MP Kazem Jalali saying they were tantamount to "interference in Iran's internal affairs".

In October last year, an official visit by a delegation of MEPs was cancelled after Tehran refused to authorize a meeting with Panahi and Sotoudeh.

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