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Freed French Teacher Arrives In Paris

  • RFE/RL

French lecturer Clotilde Reiss testifying in her own defense during a hearing in a revolutionary court in Tehran in August 2009.

French lecturer Clotilde Reiss testifying in her own defense during a hearing in a revolutionary court in Tehran in August 2009.

After a nearly year-long ordeal in which she was accused of espionage, French teacher Clotilde Reiss arrived in Paris on May 16 after being released by Iranian authorities.

Tehran had accused Reiss, 24, of taking part in a Western plot to destabilize the Iranian government after the disputed June 1, 2009 election in which President Mahmud Ahmadinejad won a second term in office.

She was allowed to leave Iran after a court commuted her five-year sentence and ordered her to pay a fine of $285,000.

Reiss was arrested last July on charges of spying during opposition protests following the disputed election. She spent several weeks in Tehran's notorious Evin jail and endured a televised show trial before being released on bail and allowed to stay in the French embassy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who received Reiss at the Elysee Palace, thanked the leaders of Brazil, Senegal, and Syria for what he called their "active role" in arranging for the French academic's release.

Her case raised tensions between France and Iran, already at odds over Tehran's nuclear program. No immediate comment was available from Iranian officials.

'No Horse Trading'

Abdolkarim Lahidji, deputy director of the International Federation of Human Rights, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Ahmadinejad sought to exchange her for three Iranians held in French jails.

"From day one it was evident that Clotilde Reiss was a hostage," Lahidji said. "In his interview with French TV Channel 3 Ahmadinejad made it clear and said that ‘we also have some prisoners in France; we want their freedom [too].’"

Lahidi says two of the prisoners in French jails were convicted in connection with the 1991 murder of former Iranian Prime Minister Shahpour Bakhtiar. The third is an Iranian engineer accused by Washington of illegally buying equipment for military use.

Reiss's release came less than two weeks after France refused a request from the United States to extradite the engineer. One of the Iranians serving life in a French jail for Bakhtiar's murder is expected to be paroled on May 18 and be immediately expelled.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner denied that there was any link between these decisions, saying the French justice system was independent.

"There was no horse trading," Kouchner told Radio J. "There is no connection between these two Iranian cases, which were dealt with by the French justice system, and the freedom of our hostage," he added.

Reiss was arrested as she was preparing to leave the Islamic Republic last July, after working at the University of Isfahan for five months. She was among thousands of people detained over widespread postelection unrest.

Written by Abubakar Siddique with reporting by Mosaddegh Katouzian of RFE/RL's Radio Farda