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Iran state TV airs alleged ‘confessions’ of two detained French nationals

Iranian state television broadcast Thursday what it said were “confessions” by two French nationals, five months after they were arrested in the Islamic republic.

French teachers’ union official Cecile Kohler and her partner Jacques Paris have been detained in Iran since May 7 and stand accused of seeking to stir labour unrest during teachers’ strikes earlier this year.

The release of their alleged confessions comes as Iran grapples with a new wave of women-led protests that erupted on September 16 following the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old Iranian Kurd died after being detained for allegedly breaching the country’s strict rules on how women should dress.

Iran had announced on May 11 the arrest of two Europeans “who entered the country with the aim of triggering chaos and destabilising society”.

France has condemned the arrests as “baseless” and called for their immediate release.

Iran said later that it had arrested two French nationals who had entered the country on tourist visas.

The pair were “accused of association and collusion with the aim of undermining the security of the country”, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi said in July.

A French union source later identified them as Cecile Kohler, of a teachers’ union, and her husband Jacques Paris, saying they had travelled to Iran for their Easter holidays.

In a video aired Thursday, a woman speaking French and claiming to Kohler is heard saying that she is an “agent of the DGSE” French intelligence service.

In the recording shown on the Arabic-language Al-Alam channel, she says the couple were in Iran “to prepare the conditions for the revolution and the overthrow of the Iranian Islamist regime”.

She said they had planned to finance strikes and demonstrations and even use weapons “to fight against the police”.

According to Jacques Paris, who was also shown in the video, the DGSE’s objectives “were to put pressure on the Iranian government”.

– ‘Extracting confessions’ –

Kohler and Paris are among the latest Western citizens to be detained in Iran, in what activists claim is a deliberate policy to extract concessions from the West — accusations rejected by Tehran.

Rights groups based outside Iran have repeatedly accused the Islamic republic of extracting “confessions” from detained foreigners and Iranian campaigners under duress and then broadcasting them on state media as a propaganda tool.

A 2020 report by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and its member organisation Justice for Iran said Iranian state media had broadcast over 350 such confessions in the space of a decade.

It said such “confessions” were “systematically broadcast” by Iranian state-owned media “to instill fear and repress dissent” and victims had been “subjected to torture and ill-treatment”.

Thursday’s broadcast comes amid a crackdown on the most recent protest movement in which security forces have also arrested nine foreigners — including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.

Iran’s judicial authority issued an order in October 2020 banning torture, the use of “forced confessions”, solitary confinement, illegal police custody and other violations of defendants’ rights.

That came a week after controversy sparked by videos posted on social media showing police officers beating detainees in pickup trucks in the middle of a street.

More than 20 Westerners, most of them dual nationals, are held or prevented from leaving Iran.

Among them are the French-Iranian researcher Fariba Adelkhah, arrested in June 2019 and later sentenced to five years in prison for undermining national security, allegations her family has strongly denied.

Another French citizen, Benjamin Briere, was arrested in May 2020 and later sentenced to eight years and eight months in prison for espionage, charges he rejects.

US citizen Baquer Namazi, who had served a prison sentence for espionage, left Iran on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced.