Around 2,000 representatives from 600 cities around the world flocked to Brussels today to attend the Brussels Urban Summit 2023. But one participant garnered particular attention.
Alireza Zakani, the ultra-conservative mayor of the Iranian capital of Tehran, was spotted among the ranks of local leaders invited into the Brussels Town Hall today, provoking fierce criticism on social media.
The Iranian statesman founded the “Society of Supporters of the Islamic Revolution” and is a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (which is facing calls to be designated as a terror organisation), was involved in brutally suppressing street protests since 2022.
1er rang,4è gauche: le maire de Téhéran! Fondateur de la société des partisans de la révolution islamique, membre des gardiens de la révolution, soutien du régime iranien réprimant sa population ds le sang, dont à Téhéran! Son invitation par @SmetPascal = 1 grave faute politique! https://t.co/bCB0LMAtHs— Sophie Rohonyi (@SophieRohonyi) June 13, 2023
In a post on Twitter, Belgian MP Sophie Rohonyi accused Smet of supporting the Iranian regime which is “repressing its population with blood.” She branded the invitation a “serious political fault”.
According to La Libre Belgique, the Iranian was even invited to speak at an event within the Brussels City Hall. Smet, whose office was responsible for inviting participants, is now facing fierce backlash, both in Brussels and in the Federal Parliament, not least given the recent detention of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who was freed from inhumane conditions at the hands of Iranian authorities by a prisoner swap.
“It is shocking and regrettable,” denounced Brussels MP David Leisterh. “I am asking for explanations: rolling out the red carpet for those who take hostages is not acceptable.”
Notably absent from the international conference were representatives of Russian cities, who were banned from attendance. Despite Iran’s direct financing and support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, this ban was not extended to representatives of Iranian cities.
In a comment to La Libre, Smet did not deny his role in facilitating a visa for the Iranian to visit Brussels. However the Brussels official said it was the Metropolis World Congress, of which Iran is a member, who requested that Tehran take part.
The Belgian newspaper claims that FPS Foreign Affairs advised against issuing visas to representatives from Tehran. Smet reportedly downplayed their concerns and a visa was subsequently issued.
🚨 Alireza Zakani, Tehran City Mayor and IRGC affiliate, has travelled to Brussels for a summit.Zakani was the former head of Basij Student Organisation (SBO). The SBO was sanctioned by the European Union on 22 May 2023 for gross human rights abuses in #Iran.#IRGCterrorists pic.twitter.com/poyPMdYgUw — Kasra Aarabi (کسری اعرابی) (@KasraAarabi) June 12, 2023
Mayor of Tehran Zakani’s reputation is certainly infamous. An ultra-conservative, he is in favour of gender segregation and hard-line Islamic views. He was an active participant in crushing student protests.
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As noted by Iranian-Belgian MP Darya Safai, who was born in Tehran, Zakani was once the head of the Basij Student Organization, which was sanctioned by the European Union in May for human rights violations.
“He is the former boss of the Islamic Basij which is responsible for beating, killing, and oppressing students to crush their understandable protest against the regime,” Safai said in a statement. “How is it possible that the boss of such a notorious and sanctioned organisation gets a visa from Belgium to travel to Brussels?”