'Intimidated' British Council shuts Iran office

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The Independent Online

The British Council has suspended work in Iran because of what it described as intimidation by the authorities. The cultural arm of the British Government said yesterday that it had stopped operations after "cases of intimidation of our local staff in Iran".

The council said all 16 of its local employees had been summoned to a meeting at the Iranian president's office in December and told to resign. The British Council's chief executive Martin Davidson said no British staff had been able to obtain visas to work in Iran for the past two years. He said the council's offices were forced to close at the end of January. Mr Davidson called the actions of Iranian authorities unacceptable.

"There are no winners here," he said. "Our members of staff in Iran have lost their jobs, our Iranian partners have lost opportunities to work with the UK, and young people in Iran and the UK have lost the chance to build links that can last a lifetime. I am disappointed that the Iranian authorities have chosen to cut educational and cultural ties with the UK when they can be of most value."

Mr Davidson said he hoped to meet Iranian authorities to work out a solution, while the Foreign Secretary David Miliband urged Iranian officials to reconsider. Iranian officials have yet to comment.