AFP: Iran responded to fresh EU criticism of its human rights situation by saying it was concerned by what it alleged were violations in Europe and a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Netherlands. "We are seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Europe," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters. AFP

TEHRAN - Iran responded to fresh EU criticism of its human rights situation by saying it was concerned by what it alleged were violations in Europe and a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Netherlands.

"We are seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Europe," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

"We expect the Europeans to take necessary measures so that we will not see violation of the rights of Muslims, minorities and foreigners any more," he said in complaints that later featured as the top headline on state-run television.

The European Union has frequently voiced concern over the violations of human rights in the Islamic republic.

Last week the Netherlands, acting as the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, lodged a formal protest with Iran over the arrest and harassment of journalists, staff of non-governmental organizations and members of religious minorities.

But Asefi hit back at The Hague in an apparent reference to murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh, widely known for his criticism of Islam and who caused uproar with his film "Submission" that links domestic abuse with the perceived subservient position of Muslim women.

"In the Netherlands we see somebody's appalling act has provoked Muslims, and this has been followed by harsh measures being taken by anti-Islamic circles," Asefi said.

In the EU's protest last month, the 25-nation bloc listed six journalists or Internet writers arrested in a recent crackdown and who were still behind bars, seven who were detained and released, and four writers or activists who have received travel bans.

Iran's judiciary, a bastion of the Islamic republic's religious right, has in recent months been stepping up its crackdown on the press, and extending its reach into cyberspace.

But Iranian media said Saturday that four of the reformist journalists, three of them recently released, have written letters of repentance, saying they were "brainwashed" by foreigners and "counter-revolutionaries".

The press has carried the letters, allegedly written by imprisoned Javad Qolan Tamimi, Omid Memarian, Shahram Rafizadeh and Roozbeh Mir-Ebrahimi, freed in recent days, to the head of Iran's hardline judiciary.

For the past two years, the European Union has been seeking to engage Iran on human rights issues, but the dialogue appears to have stalled.

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