The British Council, an NGO which specialises in international educational and cultural opportunities, has suspended its operations in Tehran following cases of "intimidation" of its staff by the Iranian authorities.
AFP - The British Council cultural organisation said Wednesday it had suspended its operations in Tehran after the "intimidation" of local staff by the Iranian authorities.
The council said it had "no choice" but to act after the authorities summoned most of its 16 local staff for "interviews" in December and "suggested to them that they should resign from their posts at the British Council".
Two members of staff also had their passports confiscated after they tried to leave the country to go to a meeting, the council said, prompting the organisation to suspend all operations in Iran on January 31.
"These actions by the Iranian authorities are unacceptable," British Council chief executive Martin Davidson said in a statement.
"They are designed to pressurise our staff with the clear intention of stopping our cultural and educational work in the country."
Davidson said he was "disappointed", saying that "maintaining open and constructive dialogue between countries is vital during difficult times", but hoped operations could resume as soon as possible.
Speaking to the BBC later, he refused to speculate whether the row had anything to do with the arrival of a new US president in the White House.
Tensions with the United States and Britain, already high over Iran's nuclear ambitions, also increased this week with the launch of Iran's first satellite.
"It's very difficult to say," he said, adding that stronger cultural ties would "stand us in good stead when the political relationship recovers".
While officially an independent non-profit charity, the British Council receives a large part of its funding from Britain's Foreign Office.
Last year it fell foul of the Russian authorities amid a diplomatic standoff between Britain and Moscow triggered by the November 2006 radioactive poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko.
The authorities in Moscow shut down all but one of its Russian offices in January 2008 amid accusations of tax evasion.
The council, which promotes cultural and educational links, first set up an office in Iran in 1942, but closed in 1979 after the Islamic revolution. It reopened in 2001 at the request of the Iranian authorities.
Date created : 2009-02-05