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Paris demands immediate release of French academic

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Clea CAULCUTT

Latest update : 2009-08-09

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Tuesday for the immediate release of a young French academic arrested last week in Iran for spying. Friends and relatives claim she is innocent.

On Wednesday, Clotilde Reiss, a French teaching assistant working in Iran, was arrested and is currently being held in Tehran’s notorious Evin jail. “This is a mock-trial” says a fellow teacher who knew Reiss in Iran, “the spying accusations are only a pretext.”


In an appeal for her release five days after her arrest, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France 3 Television that Reiss was arrested at Tehran airport attempting to board a flight to Beirut.


"There is no reason for Clotilde to be detained," Kouchner said. "We demand her release."


Iranian authorities accuse the 23-year-old academic - who had been working in Iran for five months before her arrest - of espionage and of participating in demonstrations.


Both the French embassy in Tehran and the French research institute she was affiliated to last year in Tehran have refused to comment on her arrest.


'Extremely shy'


One of her fellow teachers – who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons - says it is unlikely Reiss provoked the authorities. Despite her young age, the French assistant spoke Farsi, was careful and knew Iran very well.


“Clotilde is extremely shy, serious and hard-working,” says the source in an interview with FRANCE 24, “she’s not someone who would cause a stir, not a rebel.”


At the time of her arrest, Clotilde was working as a teaching assistant in the central Iranian town of Isfahan after finishing a masters on primary education in Iran.


The spy charges against her rest on allegations she sent photos to a friend in Tehran after attending protests in Isfahan against the results of the June 12 elections which handed a second term to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kouchner said.


"I think that's what it's about. That's not espionage, it cannot be. This accusation is absurd," he said.


"She was a classic young student who was doing her job, who witnessed protests like millions of Iranians," the top French diplomat said, appealing to “the solidarity” of his European counterparts.


Tit for tat?


The announcement of Reiss’ arrest comes in the wake of the arrest and detention of nine local British embassy staff in Tehran who were accused of instigating riots in the country. All but one of the nine employees have been released.


Reiss’ fellow teacher puts forth that Iranian authorities most probably arrested Reiss to protest France’s staunch condemnation of state repression of the post-elections protests.


“Clotilde was arrested for reasons which go beyond her,” the source said, “and it was easy for the authorities to attack a young girl, alone and isolated.” 


On June 16, French President Nicolas Sarkozy condemned the “extent of the fraud” in Iran, saying the “violent reaction was proportional” to the vote-rigging during a visit to Libreville. More vocal than their US counterpart Barack Obama, European leaders repeatedly condemned the violence in Iran and called for a vote recount.  


In the wake of such criticism, Iran’s military accused the European Union of interfering in Iranian affairs and demanded an apology for their “huge mistake” on July 1 before restarting talks regarding Iran’s nuclear programme.


The arrest and temporary detention of foreign nationals in Iran is not a rare occurrence, human rights groups allege that the regime view it as a foreign policy tool. In January 2009, a US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi was arrested and jailed on charges of espionage before she was released in May.


Date created : 2009-07-06