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French embassy worker released, but will face spy charges

French embassy worker Nazak Afshar (left) was released from prison on Tuesday but will still face charges related to protests following Iran's June 12 presidential election. A second French national, Clotilde Reiss, awaits trial from behind bars.

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A French embassy employee detained in Tehran on espionage charges has been released from prison but she will still face prosecution, a statement from the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Tuesday.

Sarkozy’s office greeted the release of French-Iranian national Nazak Afshar “with great joy and relief”.


Afshar, employed at the French embassy’s cultural section, will face prosecution at a mass trial in connection with widespread public protests that erupted in the weeks following the disputed June 12 re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.   

A second French national, 24-year-old teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss, remains behind bars, accused of spying and involvement in a Western plot to destabilise the Iranian regime.

France has dismissed the charges as baseless and has called for both women’s release.

The two women appeared in court on Saturday along with several other detainees. France criticised Iran for failing to inform its embassy in advance that either woman would be appearing in court, which French authorities say flouted international regulations and the rules of consular protection.   

A diplomatic source told AFP on Saturday that it was “surprising to know Reiss was in the court”, saying he had learned it from television only that morning. “We were not informed previously,” he said.

Reiss was initially accused of spying for taking a photograph of a demonstration in Isfahan and emailing it to a friend in Tehran. According to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, Reiss admitted in court that she had filed a report on protests in the city of Isfahan at the cultural department of the French embassy in Tehran.

Iran’s ambassador to France, Seyed Mehdi Miraboutalebi, told French radio station RFI on Tuesday that the Iranian authorities had offered to let Reiss stay in the French embassy pending her trial if the French government promised she would remain there, but that Paris had declined to respond to the offer.   

The French foreign ministry denied the allegation, saying that Miraboutalebi’s comments suggesting the French authorities “were not doing everything they could” for Reiss’s release were incorrect. “We refute them categorically,” the ministry said in a statement.

Presumption of innocence

Miraboutalebi said that France had been told not to publicise Reiss’s case in the media, and warned against jumping to conclusions before her trial.

“Unfortunately, our French friends did not have the necessary patience and they claimed that this young lady was totally innocent,” he said. “In other words, they took the place of the Iranian judges.”

“As in France, the Iranian judiciary is totally independent,” he added.

The EU presidency had joined Britain and France in calling upon the Iranian authorities to release Afshar, Reiss and Hossein Rassam, an Iranian political analyst employed by the British embassy who has been detained since late June.

 

The EU presidency said the prosecution of the three was an act against the whole European Union.

Tehran has responded strongly to Western criticism of the mass trial of the detained protesters, vowing to resist what it called “foreign intervention” in its domestic affairs.   
 

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