MP: Iran must let pair go free

First published in News by

Britain's policy of engagement with Iran 'does not appear to be working', according to the founder of a committee aiming to free Barnet refugees Abrahim Khodabandeh and Jamil Bassam, currently languishing in an Iranian jail.

Win Griffiths, the Labour MP for Bridgend, Wales, who set up the Ad Hoc International Campaign Committee to free the ‘Barnet Two’, said that if Iran was serious about changing its attitude to human rights, it would allow representatives of Mr Khodabandeh and Mr Bassam to visit them.

He contrasted their plight to the treatment in this country of the Iranian former ambassador to Argentina, Hadi Soleimanpour, who has appeared in court in London after Argentina requested he be extradited to face charges of being involved in a bomb attack there in the 1990s, which he denies.

Mr Griffiths said: "The policy of engagement does not appear to be working. There is a total contrast between what happens in a democratic country with an independent judiciary and what happens in an undemocratic country.

"Mr Soleimanpour has been in open court, proceedings were reported on and he has been granted bail.

"In Iran, apart from being told about six weeks after they arrived that they were in Iran, we don't know officially where they are or what they have been charged with."

Mr Khodabandeh, who has been living in Barnet for 30 years, and Mr Bassam, who has been living in Hendon for 30 years, are Iranians who have been granted refugee status in the UK.

They were arrested while travelling on valid visas to Syria in April and flown to Iran — a flagrant breach of the United Nations convention on refugees.

Although the two are supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which opposes the government in Tehran, Mr Griffiths said it was still unclear why Iran had gone to such lengths to get their hands on Mr Khodabandeh and Mr Bassam.

"Both of them were in Britain at the time of the revolution in 1979 [when the current regime came to power].

"Apart from the fact that they are both members of the NCRI, it's difficult to imagine why the Iranian government should have felt they were such important people. I know Abrahim pretty well. He's a pleasant, quietly-spoken sort of person. It's very odd," he said.

Mr Griffiths said his committee was aiming to persuade the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to do more to try to help the Barnet Two. Last Thursday, Iranians demonstrated outside the Foreign Office and the UNHCR to ask them to do more to help.

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