Tehran: UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called on Iran to free all its political prisoners on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit.

"I have urged the authorities during my visit this time to release Opposition Leaders, human rights defenders, journalists and social activists to create the conditions for free expression and open debate," Ban said, according to the text of the address delivered late yesterday to an Iranian diplomats' college.

Ban said that allowing the Iranian people's voice to be heard was especially important ahead of the country's 2013 presidential election, when a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be chosen.

"Restricting freedom of expression and suppressing social activism will only set back development and plant the seeds of instability," Ban warned.

The last presidential election in Iran in 2009, which saw Ahmadinejad declared the winner amid allegations by his challengers of fraud, was followed by widespread protests that were brutally crushed by authorities.

The figureheads of the opposition "Green Movement" have languished under house arrest ever since.

Iranian officials gave no immediate reaction to Ban's speech.

A brief state television report on the address referred only to the very last part of Ban's speech, in which he thanked Iran for giving him a Persian carpet as a gift.

Elsewhere in his speech, Ban expanded on points he presented at the opening of the two day NAM summit in Tehran, especially warning Iran it faced isolation if it did not comply with UN resolutions demanding it curb its nuclear programme.

Stressing "the cost of Iran's current trajectory," he said that "any country at odds with the international community is one that denies itself much-needed investment and finds itself isolated from the thrust of common progress."

Returning to Iran's human rights record and repression of political dissidents, he said: "Any country at odds with itself deprives itself of its people's energy and goodwill, and sets the stage for future instability."


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