Iranian diplomat who defected in Belgium applies for political asylum in Norway

By Bjoern H. Amland, AP
Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Iranian defector applies for asylum in Norway

OSLO, Norway — An Iranian diplomat who quit his job in Belgium said Tuesday he will seek political asylum in Norway — the latest of three Iranian emissaries in Europe to defect this year over Tehran’s post-election crackdown.

Farzad Farhangian, who stepped down as press attache at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels, told reporters in Oslo that he wanted to “take a stand in support of the Iranian people and the (opposition) movement.”

Farhangian left his post Friday and flew to Norway, where he joined Mohammed Reza Heydari, a former Iranian diplomat in Oslo who defected in January and was granted asylum by Norway.

On Monday, the No.2 man at Iran’s mission in Helsinki said he would apply for political asylum in Finland after resigning last week.

The defections follow last year’s presidential election in Iran, which resulted in large-scale protests and accusations that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won by fraud. Iranian security forces responded harshly, arresting numerous people.

Since the disputed vote, authorities have tried more than 100 activists and opposition members on security charges. More than 80 of them have been sentenced to prison terms from six months to 15 years, and 10 of them been sentenced to death.

The crackdown has given impetus to opposition forces — including the Europe-based Green Wave movement, which works to overthrow the Islamic regime in Tehran.

Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C., said the defections reflect widespread discontent about the Iranian regime, even among the countries’ officials.

“There is enormous disaffection within the Iranian Foreign Ministry,” he said. “But Iranian diplomats abroad face a difficult dilemma. If they resign out of principle they lose their livelihoods and have to apply for political asylum. That’s not an easy decision to make when you have a family to feed.”

Farhangian said top-level officials in the Revolutionary Guard in Iran were considering joining the opposition movement, but gave no details.

The opposition has not held any street demonstrations since February and canceled plans for a rally on the anniversary of the election, but pro-government crowds have continued protests against opposition leaders.

Earlier this month, demonstrators assaulted the house of key opposition leader Mahdi Karroubi, just hours before major state-backed rallies. The increasing efforts to isolate and harass top opposition figures after relentless crackdowns appear to have driven protesters from the streets.

Farhangian said the turning point for him came after the election, adding that he could not “come to any agreement” with the Iranian ambassador at the embassy in Brussels. “We have had a lot of arguments since last year,” he said.

Farhangian declined to give details about his family but confirmed that he will seek asylum for both himself and his family.

There has been no coverage of the defections in Iran’s domestic press.

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