London becoming ‘safe refuge for Iranian regime proponents', MPs fear

Parliament hears of 'substantial rumours' that families of Iran's elite are applying for UK passports to flee to British capital

Foreign Office minister Gillian Keegan said she would investigate the claims. PA
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The UK Foreign Office has pledged to investigate claims that family members of Iran’s leaders are applying for British passports to seek refuge in London, as protests continue in their country.

Iranians have taken to the streets to protest against the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in Tehran on September 16. She had detained by the morality police three days earlier for wearing her hijab “improperly”.

Conservative MP Bob Stewart told the House of Commons on Tuesday that he had heard “substantial rumours” that Iranian elites were attempting to make London “a place of safe refuge” and were applying for British passports.

“Could I ask the minister to assure the House that London doesn’t become a place of safe refuge for the Iranian regime proponents?” the MP for Beckenham told the Commons.

“Can she assure me for instance that money from Iran funding platforms which are pro-Iranian in this country are closely looked at?

“And in particular can she assure me that there is quite a substantial rumour that families of the leaders in Iran are getting British passports, which to me is iniquitous.”

Foreign Office minister Gillian Keegan told Mr Stewart that she would investigate the issues he had raised.

“Obviously, we have our own rule of law here in the UK, but in relation to the rumours he has heard about passports, I haven’t heard those, but I will certainly look into that and write to him,” Ms Keegan said.

Conservative MP Bob Blackman earlier questioned whether the UK should recall its ambassador from Tehran and consider closing its embassy.

Mahsa Amini protests in Iran and around the world – in pictures

“We must issue the most strongest condemnation of these killings and mass arrests,” the MP for Harrow East said.

“In order to do so, is it not right that we recall our ambassador from Tehran, and even consider closing our embassy in Iran, to demonstrate to Iran this is unacceptable?”

Mr Blackman told MPs he had been placed under sanctions by Iran, and said it was time to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation.

“We condemn the Iranian authorities. Obviously, we’ve taken very strong action,” Ms Keegan said.

“We condemn the crackdown on protesters, journalists and internet freedom, and the use of violence in response to the expression of fundamental rights by women or any other members of Iranian society is wholly unjustifiable.

“We will continue to work, including with our international partners, to explore all options for addressing Iran’s human rights violations.

“We will never be able to comment on possible future actions or sanctions or designations.”

Alternative Mahsa Amini protests – in pictures

Other MPs joined calls to proscribe the IRCG.

“What we are seeing in Iran is state industrialised femicide. And abroad we are seeing them being increasingly aggressive in support of terrorist states and terrorist organisations,” said Conservative chair of the foreign affairs committee Alicia Kearns.

“So, will we finally act and sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are sending surface-to-surface missiles to Russia, they are supporting proxies across the region, and they are spreading harmful radicalising narratives online?”

Shadow Foreign Office minister Bambos Charalambous said the UK should lead calls for the UN Human Rights Council to “urgently establish an international investigative and accountability mechanism” to analyse evidence of the most serious crimes in Iran.

“Britain must support all those who stand up for basic freedoms, freedom of conscience and religion and freedom to live one’s life as one chooses,” he said.

Iran's Supreme Leader calls anti-government protesters 'agents of the enemy' – video

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokeswoman Layla Moran appealed for ministers to give extra funding to BBC Persian, the Farsi broadcast station that is a subsidiary of the BBC World Service.

She said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has seen the BBC given extra money to ensure that the World Service could broadcast in Ukrainian and Russian. “Is there any chance that could also happen for BBC Persian, which faces the chop?” Ms Moran asked.

Ms Keegan told the Commons she was “shortly meeting” with the BBC World Service and would discuss BBC Persian “further with them”.

The BBC has proposed to end its Farsi radio service, but BBC News Persian is not closing, and will continue online and on TV.

Updated: October 25, 2022, 10:26 PM
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