Iran faces wrath of EU over jailing of eight reformists

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The Independent Online

A sharp deterioration in relations between Iran and the Europen Union is feared after the Islamic state handed harsh jail sentences to a group of reformists at the weekend.

A sharp deterioration in relations between Iran and the Europen Union is feared after the Islamic state handed harsh jail sentences to a group of reformists at the weekend.

The verdicts provoked dismay in many Western capitals, particularly Germany where the Iranian ambassador was summoned by the Foreign Minister, Joshka Fischer, for "urgent discussions" yesterday.

Iran's hardline conservative judges handed jail terms of between three and ten years to eight prominent supporters of President Mohammad Khatami, in a move seen as evidence of the establishment's determination to derail his reform movement. In Berlin, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Mr Fischer had "profound concerns" about the sentences.

The Foreign Minister has a particular interest in the case. The Iranian reformists were being tried for taking part in a controversial conference organised last year in Berlin by an affiliate of the Green Party, which Mr Fischer leads. Said Sadr, an Iranian national employed as a translator by Germany's Tehran embassy, was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for his part in the conference. All eight reformists were convicted on charges to do with their attendance at the conference, which was upstaged by exiled opposition groups and caused consternation in Iran.

They all received sentences on other charges, all of them crimes of expression and thought. Six more defendants were acquitted, while another three have not revealed what sentences they received.

Sources close to Gerhard Schröder, the Germany Chancellor, said he he dropped plans to travel to Iran.

Yesterday's diplomatic dressing down is further evidence that Germany, which has long argued that criticising Tehran would play into the hands of Mr Khatami's opponents, will now adopt a tougher stance on Iran's increasingly bleak human rights record.

That stance is likely to be reflected when the European Union's Middle East working group meets today, when it will work out an appropriate response to the sentences.

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