French teacher home after Iran trial ordeal

16th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Young French teacher Clotilde Reiss flew home from Iran on Sunday, 10 months after she was arrested and accused of spying and inciting anti-government protests.

A government jet brought 24-year-old researcher to an airbase outside Paris after her lawyer paid Iran a fine of more than a quarter of a million dollars. She was to be welcomed by President Nicolas Sarkozy .

Her arrival brought an end to a long drama which raised tensions between France and Iran and saw the young teacher paraded at a televised show trial and spend six weeks in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

The release came after a French court ruled against a US extradition request for an Iranian engineer and shortly before another judge was to rule on the parole request of a jailed Iranian assassin.

But French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner insisted there had been "no haggling and no pay off" to ensure the release and said there had been no link between the French and Iranian cases.

"This series of judicial rulings -- in France we don't influence judges' decision -- has nothing to do with any haggling, any alleged bargaining," he said, in an interview with Radio J.

Reiss was arrested on July 1 after demonstrations against the results of Iran's disputed presidential election.

She was put on trial in August on charges of acting against national security, at a time when relations between Paris and Tehran were already bitterly hostile because of French concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.

At her first court appearance, which was televised, Reiss admitted taking part in anti-government protests "for personal reasons" and writing a report for an institute linked to the French embassy's cultural service.

For most of her time on remand she has been allowed to remain in the French embassy, but there were fears her case could lead to a long Iranian jail term.

"I am extremely happy of course," her father, Remi Reiss, told RTL radio Sunday. "It ends the chapter ... her life can return to normal.

"The lesson to draw from all this is the amazing experience she's had," he said. "It's a beautiful story because it started with her enthusiasm. And then, there were political events that changed everything."

Reiss' lawyer Mohammad Ali Mahdavi Sabet told AFP Saturday the court fined her 285,000 dollars (230,000 euros), "which I paid this morning". He said he did not appeal the ruling, which he called "close to an acquittal".

He said the court sentenced Reiss to two terms of five years then commuted this to a fine under a "clemency decision ... because of the personal situation" of the defendant.

Described by friends as a serious scholar passionate about Iranian language and culture, Reiss was arrested shortly before flying home after completing a six-month teaching and research assignment in the city of Isfahan.

Her release came a few days after a French court ruled against a US extradition request for Iranian engineer Majid Kakavand, who has been held in France since March 2009.

Kakavand, who was freed and flew home last week, was arrested at the request of Washington which accused him of buying restricted electronic components and exporting them to Iran via Malaysia between 2006 and 2008.

"Ms. Reiss' release has nothing to do with Mr. Kakavand's release," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran, according to the Fars news agency.

"The judiciary examined her case and she was allowed to leave according to the verdict," the spokesman said.

But both Kakavand's name and that of another Iranian held in France, Ali Vakili Rad, have often come up in connection with the Reiss case.

On Tuesday, a French court is due to rule on a parole request by Vakili Rad, who was convicted in 1994 of the 1991 murder of the deposed shah's last prime minister Shapour Bakhtiar.

On Saturday, Senegal said that Reiss's release came after mediation undertaken by President Abdoulaye Wade, as head of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, with the Iranians since September.

The Sengalese government said Tehran had asked Wade on Tuesday to notify France of the decision to release Weiss.

© 2010 AFP

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