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Annual Gathering of Iranians in Europe Focuses on Political Prisoners

A group of Iranian families who now live in various parts of Europe gathered recently at a camp in southern Sweden to renew old ties, enjoy sporting activities and discuss the political situation in their native land. VOA's Craig Fitzpatrick spent time with these families and shows us a weekend that these families will not soon forget. His report is narrated by Ted Landphair.

The lakes are a bit chilly in the Ostergotland area of southern Sweden but that does not stop a few brave souls from jumping in. And it was here recently that a group of Iranian families from around Europe came to play, socialize, and take part in efforts to free political prisoners back in their native land.

Some came from Germany, others from Italy, France, and elsewhere in Sweden. A few even came from Iran itself. Zoya Khan and her sister Sara are from London.

“The green space is amazing, the houses are beautiful, everything is so calm and quiet, which I think is ideal it you live in a busy city like London or New York, or wherever you are,” said Sara. “I think a week or two away from that is quite nice.

Zoya agrees. “It's just a very good opportunity to get together with loads of people that we've known before, and they live all over Europe, and also to get to obviously meet new people, to meet some new people, it's just a very good way of socializing, because on a day–to-day basis you don't really get to meet that many Iranians, especially in London.”

Many of the adults here were former friends and neighbors back in Iran, but when they emigrated to various parts of Europe they lost contact with each other. So a few years ago they formed the Cultural Network of Iranians of the European Union and agreed to meet every year.

This year, they chose to meet in Sweden, and although many enjoyed the various physical activities provided by the camp, the fate of political prisoners held in Iran was on the mind of almost everyone.

Karim Shambayati, who is from Köln, Germany, came because he wanted to exchange ideas and emotions with other Iranians, and also for a more important cause. “One of the main targets of this camp has been toward the political freedom of prisoners, particularly Akbar Ganji and Nasser Zarafshan, and I wanted to take part in that effort.”

And photographs of Akbar Ganji, a journalist, and Nasser Zarafshan, a lawyer, were prominently displayed at a Human Rights concert on Saturday night. Both are being held for speaking out against the Iranian regime.

To put pressure on that regime, two young adults were chosen to meet with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan in New York and two others were chosen to meet with former President Nelson Mandela in South Africa. The young adults will ask these world leaders to write letters or in some way petition the Iranian government to release its political prisoners.