Iranian journalists in Tehran say a reporter who accompanied Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif during his European tour last week has stayed behind and is seeking political asylum either in Sweden or Norway.
Ehsan Bodaghi, a journalist with the administration-owned "Iran" newspaper, is one of more than two dozen well-known Iranian journalists who tweeted that Amir Tohid Fazel has stayed in Sweden and is seeking asylum. Bodaghi also says Fazel is the same hardline reporter who first published a list of dual nationals in the Iranian government; an issue hardliners have been trying to use against President Hassan Rouhani, Zarif and reformists within the regime.
The list was handed over to Fazel by hardline MP Javad Karimi Goddoussi, a staunch critic of Zarif.
According to Iranian reporters, Fazel accompanied Zarif as the political editor of hardliner Mowj News Agency in Iran, which was linked to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's Culture Minister Saffar Harandi.
Conservative journalist Ali Gholhaki on the other hand linked Fazel to Zarif, characterizing the reporter as a Zarif "devotee".
The development can have repercussions for Zarif who has been the subject of harsh criticism by regime insiders for being too soft in his dealings with the West, while also being criticized by the Iranian opposition for whitewashing the regime violation of human rights.
In comments under Fazel's tweets, reformist journalist in Tehran have already began to criticize Zarif for giving opportunities to hardline journalists he usually does not give to reformist reporters.
On Saturday August 24 several Iranian reporters wrote on Twitter that Fazel did not return to Iran with Zarif and criticized the reporter for taking advantage of Zarif and the Foreign Ministry for personal gain.
In the meantime, some hardline journalists in Iran have attempted to link Fazel to Iran's embattled reform camp by reminding that he worked at reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi's election campaign in the 2009 presidential race.
In response to harsh criticism of his behavior by his colleagues in Iran, Amir Tohid Fazel tweeted in his own defense: "Everyone can decide for himself. No one knows what happens in the future. Only the short-sighted will speak out of ignorance."
Over 400 comments under this post includes tens of responses by well-known Iranian journalists who criticized Fazel for double standards, fabricating cases against other Iranian journalists and particularly for seeking asylum while his travel expenses were paid by the Foreign Ministry.
There have been no official confirmation or comments either by the Islamic Republic or Sweden and Norway about Fazel having defected or seeking asylum.
Meanwhile, Fazel has started tweeting in favor of Iranian journalists such as Marzieh Amiri who have come under pressure by Iran's hardline security and Judiciary bodies.
In another tweet, he attempted to distance himself from Iranian hardliners by attacking one of their models, Fedayeein Islam member and former assassin Navab Safavi.
The latest post on his Twitter however reads:
"God will accept anyone's apology. Man cannot prevent another human being from returning from the wrong path and reform himself."
While the controversy surrounding the issue is still continuing on Twitter. A small minority of social media users say Fazel sought asylum in Norway rather than Sweden, where most Iranian reporters on social media say he is.
There has been no official reaction by Zarif or the Foreign Ministry concerning the development.