The Iranian parliament has suspended a debate on a controversial motion that would allow the trade of ancient artifacts and monuments after archeologists and cultural figures protested the move.
A senior official from Iran’s Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts (MCTH) said on Wednesday that lawmakers in the Iranian parliament had withdrawn their signatures from the motion after consultations with the Ministry.
Ali Darabi, the second top government official at the MCTH, said lawmakers had not informed the Ministry about the motion which was introduced to the parliament earlier this month.
Hundreds of university professors and national heritage advocates wrote an open letter to the parliament calling for the motion to be axed. They said the move will encourage destruction and looting of historical monuments in Iran.
Darabi told the ISNA news agency that lawmakers will now wait for a government bill that is set to define new roles and mandates for the MCTH, a ministry established just two years ago.
The controversial motion had signatures of 46 out of 290 members of the Iranian parliament. It was aimed at turning Iran into a major regional hub for trade of ancient artifacts and help reduce the trafficking of antiquities out of the country.
Iran has dozens of sites recognized as unique by the United Nations culture and education department UNESCO, including 26 sites on the body’s list of World Heritage Sites.
Police and customs officials in Iran regularly report seizures of artifacts being smuggled out of Iran. However, arrests and hefty fines imposed by courts have not deterred smugglers who often collaborate with networks based in Iran’s neighboring countries.