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Dissident demo over Iran Interpol listing

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14:41 CET+01:00
Ten Iranian-born Swedes plan to stage a protest outside the Riksdag on Thursday in a bid to have the Swedish government help get their names removed from an Interpol wanted list.

“We want Sweden to do something,” Arezo Julie Jacobsson, the group's spokesperson, told The Local.

The men were all given political asylum in Sweden 20 years ago for their involvement with the Kurdish opposition movement in Iran and have since become Swedish citizens.

But now they find themselves in a state of “national arrest”, unable to leave Sweden after Interpol placed the men on their list of wanted fugitives following a request from the Iranian government, which claims they are all involved in terrorism and organized crime.

Two other Kurdish political refugees from Iran who now reside in Europe have also been put on Interpol's list.

Jacobsson asserts, however, that the claims are baseless and are merely a new tactic in Iran's long-standing efforts to come after its political opponents, wherever they may be.

“We've asserted from day one that this is a politically motivated conspiracy in which, unfortunately, Interpol is running errands for the Iranian regime,” Jacobsson said in a statement ahead of the demonstration.

As a part of the demonstration, the ten men plan to hand over a letter to the Speaker of the Riksdag, Per Westerberg of the Moderate Party, demanding the Swedish government take a position.

“We want Sweden to take a stand; either support us and demand that Interpol remove the names, or come out and say it will cooperate with Iran and label these men as terrorists,” Jacobsson told The Local.

She explained that she has been “hugely disappointed” with how the Swedish government has handled the matter thus far.

“Their silence is incomprehensible,” she said.

“Swedish police were informed about the list back in June, but no one contacted the men and informed them they were on the Interpol list.”

It wasn't until late autumn that members of the group learned they were the subject of Interpol Red Notices, which “seek the arrest or provisional arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition”, according to the Interpol website.

“Sweden is now obliged to hand over information about these people, including where they live, and this information is going to end up in the hands of Iranian authorities,” Jacobsson explained.

She added, however, that she hasn't been able to ascertain which information, if any, may have already been handed over to Iran.

Jacobsson is also frustrated by what she sees as “passivity” on the part of Swedish officials to come to the defence of ten Swedish citizens.

Simply getting a meeting with officials at the Swedish foreign and justice ministries has taken weeks, she explained.

“I've been calling every day for seven weeks,” said Jacobsson.

She admits that the situation and all of the sensitivities surrounding it likely “came as a surprise” to the Swedish government, calling it a “new phenomenon”.

“It's probably the first time they've ever faced something like this,” Jacobsson said.

While acknowledging that Swedish officials have been “somewhat sympathetic”, she thinks the government could be doing more.

“They have said these men are protected here and that they won't be extradited, but that's not enough,” she said.

“Sweden is also a member of Interpol and has as much power there as Iran.”

A lawyer who has agreed to assist the group in their quest to have their names cleared has sent a letter to Interpol requesting access to the material which served as the foundation for Interpol's decision to put the men on their list of fugitives in the first place.

Jacobsson expects to hear from Interpol within days, and hopes the response provides information which can help them know how to proceed further.

She added that Swedish justice officials could also request to see the evidence against the men and conduct their own investigation, but they have failed to do so thus far.

“We just want Sweden to do something,” Jacobsson said.

But she cautioned that whatever evidence is put forward by Iran needs to be regarded with a certain degree of suspicion.

“Iran can easily fabricate evidence. It's not at all hard for them make up 12 cases and send along reams of paper with evidence and witness statements,” she said.

“It's worrisome to think that any dictator in the world might now start to use Interpol as a tool in their hunt to take down political opponents.”

The Local's attempts to obtain a comment from the Swedish justice department were unsuccessful.

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