HELSINKI: A third Iranian diplomat upset with Tehran’s post-election crackdown on dissidents has defected in Europe — this time in Belgium, an opposition group said. The announcement came just hours after the No. 2 man at Iran’s mission in Helsinki said he will seek asylum in Finland.
The defections are an embarrassment for Iran, which clamped down on citizens after last year’s presidential election was followed by large-scale protests and accusations that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud. Numerous Iranians have been arrested in an ongoing crackdown.
The Europe-based Green Wave opposition movement said Monday that Farzad Farhangian, press attaché at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels, walked out Friday and flew to Oslo. The group’s founder, Amir Hossein Jahanchahi, said in a statement that "other defections from diplomats abroad will follow."
It was the third known defection of an Iranian diplomat in Europe this year to protest the Islamic Republic’s crackdown.
Mohammed Reza Heydari, who was granted asylum in Norway after leaving his post as an Iranian consular official there in January, confirmed that Farhangian had defected in Brussels. Heydari said Farhangian supported the opposition movement that grew out of unrest following the June 2009 election.
"He left the embassy after informing the ambassador that he was leaving and he came here without anyone (else) knowing about this," Heydari said by telephone from Oslo. "Then he contacted me."
No one at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels could be reached for comment after office hours.
Earlier Monday, Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who resigned last week from the embassy in Finland, told reporters that he will apply for political asylum in the Nordic country.
"I cannot accept, tolerate this fraud election. The situation got worse because … my people are being killed still," Alizadeh said in Helsinki. He added that he was no longer a diplomat but "a political dissident," and that he has no political ambitions except to be a member of the opposition.
The Iranian Embassy in Helsinki said in a statement that Alizadeh’s term of office had been terminated on Aug. 20. The Finnish Foreign Ministry said that Alizadeh had worked at the embassy in Helsinki since October 2007 and still had diplomatic status. It declined further comment.
Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington D.C., said that 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."
The 45-year-old Alizadeh, who insisted that Ahmadinejad "doesn’t represent Iran," said that since the growth of the opposition after the 2009 election, he "felt confident" that he has "been followed and bugged."
His criticism of the regime also led him to worry about the safety of his wife and family who live with him in Finland, including two sons and an eight-year-old daughter.
"Using this language puts me in a situation to look for shelter for myself. I am going to request political asylum from the Finnish government, and here are my passports," he said throwing four of them on a table. "I am going to leave these passports to whoever lets me stay here."
About 2,500 Iranian immigrants live in Finland. Some 300 were granted political asylum in 2008 and 2009, according to official immigration statistics.
Additional reporting by Sylvia Hui.