Paris (CNSNews.com) – As France continues to demand that Iran release two French citizens accused of “unleashing chaos and destabilizing our society,” an exiled opposition group said the move was part of longstanding regime campaign to force concessions from Western governments.
“The clerical regime has pursued taking westerners as hostage and seeking ransom and trying to gain concessions from Western countries since its inception,” said Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based member of the foreign affairs committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
“It is a statecraft adopted by the regime’s leaders,” he said.
“There has hardly been a time in the past four decades that the ruling theocracy has not held Western citizens hostage to blackmail its foreign interlocutors,” Gobadi said, adding that a “soft-line approach” by Western governments had only served to embolden the regime.
Cécile Kohler, a French teacher, and her husband, Jacques Kohler, were arrested at the airport in Tehran while trying to fly home after arriving for a visit in late April.
Iran’s intelligence ministry accused them of spying, saying in a press release last week – without giving their names or nationality – that “two Europeans entered the country with the aim of unleashing chaos and destabilizing our society and have been identified and arrested.”
It accused the pair of being “experienced intelligence agents” and said they were “suspected of having tried to get closer to Iranian unions, especially teachers’ ones.”
The ministry did not give an exact date of their arrest.
Last Thursday the French foreign ministry said it had been informed of the arrest of two French citizens. A ministry spokesperson called the arrests “baseless” and demanded their immediate release.
Christophe Lalande, federal secretary of the General Confederation of Labor trade union, confirmed that Cécile Kohler was a member and secondary school teacher, who he said had visited Iran for “a private tourist trip during Easter holidays.”
In Washingon, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was aware of the arrest of the two French citizens in Iran.
“We echo what you’ve heard from our French allies, the condemnation of these arrests,” he told a press briefing. “We similarly call on Iran to immediately release these two French nationals.”
“Iran has a long history of unjustly imprisoning foreign nationals in an attempt to use them as political leverage,” Price added.
Human rights groups have accused the Iranian regime of detaining foreigners to put pressure on Western countries in order to win concessions in negotiations over its nuclear programs and other issues. Tehran denies this.
Benjamin Brière, a 35-year old French tourist, was arrested in May 2020 while taking photos with a drone in a park near the Iran-Turkmenistan border. He was accused of espionage and propaganda against the regime – he had allegedly criticized Iran’s compulsory hijab laws on social media – and was sentenced last January to eight years and eight months in prison.
Fariba Adelkhah, a 60-year-old French-Iranian anthropologist, was arrested in June 2019 while carrying out research in Iran together with a visiting French colleague and partner, Roland Marchal. He was released in March 2020 but Adelkhah was convicted on charges of conspiring against national security and propaganda against the state, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment.
French citizens are not the only foreigners jailed in Iran. They are currently at least a dozen Westerners, including some with dual nationalities, in custody in the country.
Earlier this year British-Iranian citizens Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anousheh Ashouri were released, having been detained in Iran since 2016 and 2019 respectively, both accused of spying.
U.S. nationals still in Iranian custody include Baquer Namazi and his son Siamak Namazi, who were arrested in Iran in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Baquer, aged in his 80s, is a former UNICEF official. Siamak is a businessman and former Wilson Center scholar. They were sentenced in October 2016 to ten years’ imprisonment for cooperating with the U.S.
Morad Tahbaz, 66, a British-born environmentalist who holds British and U.S. citizenship, was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, for “contacts with the U.S. enemy state.”
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