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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 16:00 GMT 17:00 UK
UK urged to aid Iran dissidents
By Matthew Davis
BBC News Online

Human rights campaigners and British Labour MPs are calling on the UK to help secure the release of two London-based dissidents handed over to Iran's secret police during a family visit to Syria.

Detainees at Evin prison
There is mounting concern over Iran's political prisoners
Abrahim Khodabandeh and Jamil Bassam - of the National Council of Resistance of Iran - were seized on 12 June and flown from Damascus to Tehran.

Mr Khodabandeh's wife Elaheh Azimfar said the pair were being held "under severe torture".

Hundreds of Iranians have taken part in a series of rallies in support of the pair this week in London and a number of other European cities, both outside British embassies and offices of the UN refugee agency.

Win Griffiths, Labour MP for Bridgend - who has formed an action group to press the British Government to do more to secure the pair's release - said they were travelling on proper documents and Syrian visas.

"The British system of justice has handled the extradition proceeding of the ex-Iranian ambassador to Argentina, Hadi Soleimanpour, totally in public.

"That is to be contrasted to the totally secretive ways of the Iranian authorities in the case of Abrahim and Jamil," Mr Griffiths said.

'Disaster in prisons'

Ms Azimfar said: "It seems to me rather callous that the British Government is doing nothing about my husband and his colleague, who are under severe torture, by citing a technicality that since they are political refugees, they are not entitled to consular services.''

But the UK Foreign Office said while it was aware of the case, it was unable to offer any consular assistance to the two men, because they were not British citizens.

"We will continue to express our concerns about human rights in Iran, but that will be as part of our ongoing dialogue with Tehran," a spokesman told BBC News Online.

The pressure comes as reformist leaders in Iran have been expressing renewed concern for the conditions of political prisoners in the country.

The leader of the biggest reformist party, Mohammad Reza Khatami - who is the president's brother - said they were deeply concerned about what he called a disaster in the country's prisons which could dwarf the recent case of Zahra Kazemi.

She was a Canadian-Iranian photo journalist who was arrested in June and died in custody as the result of a blow to the head.

Reformists say there are about 40 prominent political prisoners in the capital alone, including journalists, liberal political figures and student leaders.

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