Teacher charged with spying in Iran returns to France

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A YOUNG French teacher who was charged with spying in Iran returned to France yesterday after almost a year of diplomatic wrangling between Paris and Tehran.

Clotilde Reiss (24) was flown home to Paris on a French government aircraft after an Iranian court commuted concurrent five-year jail terms in return for payment of a €200,000 fine. Ms Reiss, who had been working as a teaching assistant in the city of Isfahan, was accused of joining protests, gathering information and sending photographs abroad during unrest that broke out after last June’s disputed presidential elections in Iran. She was convicted of spying and detained for the past 10 months.

“I am very, very happy to be back in my country,” Ms Reiss said after meeting French president Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace. “I want to thank everyone who has helped me in this ordeal, starting with the president, for their support, and for defending my innocence from the moment I was arrested.”

The French government fought a long diplomatic campaign to secure the release of Ms Reiss, and Mr Sarkozy yesterday thanked the presidents of Syria, Brazil and Senegal for their “active roles” in its success. Responding to widespread speculation that the government had cut a deal with Iran to free Ms Reiss – whose case became a cause célèbre in France after her televised trial last year – French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner denied that any “horse-trading” was involved.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last September that France should consider a prisoner swap if it wanted Ms Reiss to be freed, and her release coincided with two high-profile legal cases in Paris involving Iranians.

Just two weeks ago France infuriated Washington by refusing to extradite an Iranian engineer who was accused of illegally buying electronic equipment from US firms for military use.

In addition, an Iranian serving life in a French jail for the 1991 murder of a former Iranian prime minister is widely expected to win parole tomorrow and be immediately expelled.

“There is no quid pro quo,” Mr Kouchner told French radio yesterday. “This series of judicial decisions – and in France we don’t influence judges’ decisions – has nothing to do with alleged horse-trading.”

Ms Reiss was arrested as she prepared to leave Iran on July 1st last year. She was initially held in a Tehran jail and put on trial along with dozens of other defendants who were also detained during the unrest. The authorities later released her to the care of the French embassy, pending a verdict. Some of her co-accused have been sentenced to up to 16 years in jail, and two people were hanged in January.

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