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Katariina Simonen, LL.D. (doctor of laws, University of Turku) and Associate Fellow (Univ. of Helsinki), KS is specialized in international law of armed conflicts. Among her latest publications is the Dilemma of Humanitarian Intervention (Martinus Nijhoff, 2011) She is part of the Finnish Pugwash Committee and responsible for the Nuclear Free Middle East -dialogue. Paavo Teittinen, is a Legal Student, Finnish Pugwash CommitteeIt has become a frequent occurence, that Iranian academics or activists are denied visas to enter Finalnd in order to participate in confrences or other events. In this open letter, two Finnish academics express their concern on the way freedom of speech and dialogue is being compromised by authorities.

IN June 2011, a consultation on the Middle East Nuclear Free Zone was organised at the University of Helsinki. The seminar was part of a series organised by the Finnish branch of the old and respected Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an NGO specialised in disarmament, non-proliferation and conflict prevention, and also a Nobel prize winner in 1995. The purpose of these seminars is to hear out all the parties in a conflict, in order to understand each other so that a genuine dialogue can be started. One of the principal speakers was supposed to be Dr. Mohammed Taghi Hosseini, Senior Advisor on Disarmament Issues at the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a long-time chief of Iran's disarmament delegation in Geneva, amongst others. The visa of Dr. Hosseini was issued late, so he arrived after the seminar had finished.

The very same summer, an Iranian human rights delegation, which included a number of Iranian clerics, was invited by the Finnish Human Rights League to discuss the difficult human rights situation in Iran and to find out the Iranians' views for the betterment of the situation. The visas of the delegation were not issued, under the excuse of technical difficulties in printing the visas.

In June 2013 a consultation facilitated by the Finnish Pugwash Committee was organised, again at the University of Helsinki, and this time on the sanctions imposed on Iran. The idea was to hear out the Iranians on the sanctions' effects on everyday life in Iran and to discuss options for the improvement of the situation. One of the main speakers was supposed to be Dr. Hossein Pourahmadi, Associate Professor in Political Science at the Shahid Behesti University (Tehran), who had written comprehensively on sanctions and their effects. No visa was issued. The decision was given to Dr. Pourahmadi a day before the seminar.

Iran poses problems for the US and its allies. Fundamentally, the relations between the US and Iran have been hostile since the birth of the Islamic Republic in 1979. There have been occasional better periods of cooperation, especially when Iran has been a useful ally in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, US-Iran relations are experiencing a very negative phase. The dispute is focused on the Iranian nuclear program. However, Finland has had diplomatic relations with Iran for a long time, and these relations are characterised in official rhetoric as good. How much room for maneouver has Finland in a very tight political situation, when the coalition of countries that Finland wants to associate with follows very tight policies on Iran?

It is very difficult to imagine that, without taking into account Iran´s internal human rights situation, negotiations over its nuclear program or the dialogue on Nuclear Free Middle East, any of these issues can be genuinely advanced.

Finland has also pledged, legally, to respect several significant legal principles and norms, which serve as the foundation of our society. These include, amongst others, freedom of speech and fair and equal treatment. These principles should be part of good administration, for instance when decisions on visas are made. The strength of our state, based on the rule of law, is measured exactly in concrete, hard cases, not in solemn official speeches. The visa policy and its practical application provide for excellent possibilities to advance the rule of law – or not.

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