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IRAN: Another Europe-based Tehran diplomat defects, seeks asylum

September 14, 2010 |  7:14 am

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Farzad Farhangian, a 47-year-old press attache at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels, arrived in Norway on Monday night and is planning to hand an application for asylum to Norwegian authorities Tuesday, his lawyer told Babylon & Beyond from Oslo.

Farhangian's move marks the third time in less than a year that an Iranian diplomat has defected and applied for asylum in a Scandinavian country.

Saying he was angered by the crackdown on dissidents during the Iranian presidential elections last year, Farhangian slammed Tehran's hard-line government at a news conference in Oslo on Tuesday and said he had joined the political opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"I'm apologizing to the Iranian people. During the last 30 years I was of service to the Iranian people, 23 of them in the diplomatic service, but the deviation that the Iranian republic has reached leaves me no choice. I hope to be a voice of the opposition," Agence-France Presse quoted Farhangian as saying before reporters.

Arild Humlen, a Norwegian lawyer who first met with Farhangian on Tuesday morning, says his client is receiving protection from Norwegian authorities.

According to Humlen, Farhangian had for some time expressed strong criticism toward the Iranian government. When a delegation of Iranian officials from Tehran recently showed up in Brussels to put some pressure on the diplomat, Farhangian knew it was time to go, Humlen said. 

On his arrival in Norway, Farhangian joined a former colleague from the Iranian Foreign Ministry: Mohammad Reza Heydari, the former consul at the Iranian Embassy in Oslo who resigned earlier this year in protest of the government and became a campaigner for the Iranian political opposition.

Rahman Saki of the Norwegian-Iranian Support Committee in Oslo told Babylon & Beyond that he and Heydari have been working together since the former diplomat's resignation in January. Together, they've reached out to Iranian diplomats and supported those who've contemplated quitting.

"We've been active in working with diplomats after Heydari came out and announced that he had resigned. Me and Heydari work very close. ... We've sent faxes to them, and we've called Iranian diplomats and talked to them," he said.

They reached Farhangian, who, according to Saki, contacted Heydari, an old friend, for advice. Discussions went on for months before Farhangian decided to take the final step, Saki said. He also said that Farhangian arrived in Oslo with his wife and son.

Saki says more Iranian diplomats are thinking of resigning from their posts. 

"There are several who are interested, but the situation is difficult," he said.

Just a few days ago, the former charge d'affaires at the Iranian Embassy in Finland announced that he had resigned. At first, Hossein Alizadeh remained tight-lipped about whether he would stay in Finland, but media reports said Monday that he would apply for political asylum there. Heydari obtained political asylum in Norway earlier this year.

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Farzad Farhangian. Credit: Associated Press

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